Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

at my high-plains home

The 40s, aka Alpine Ranchos, in a checkerboard area of Coconino National Forest, square miles of private land alternating with square miles of protected park, is redolant with ancient volcano-core hills, mostly gently sloped with rounded tops. Low scraggly juniper trees abound, with occasional Ponderosa pines and pinon. The snowy-capped SanFrancisxco Peaks grace the not-far-off distance. Pastel pinks, purples and light-yellow weeds adorn the 2-lane road to the Indian Rez, but not the dirt tracks wandering around on either side of it - washboarded and rutted, with just a few light green plants to the sides. Wild-wheat-like fescue grasses predominated long ago, but grazing reduced that - it takes a long time, here, for things to grow back. Short, thorny "goat's head" thistly weeds are now common; clumps of foot-tall or so desert plants also abound, but the red and black volcanic cinder and fine, almost lifeless light-colored dusty soil is sometimes denuded, depleted by grazing now (thankfully) quite limited.
Pipelines and power-lines cross through, but the private property is graced by no connecting utilities. Solar power is popular, as is a water-pumping station; there are also wind-generators. Not many outhouses, though and no storm drains. When it rains, it frequently pours hard; canyons and washes can fill quickly, moving vast amounts of almost sterile soil. The grasses of a century or more ago may return, but almost white tumbleweed bounces around until it gets caught somewhere, creating potential fire-hazards. Some yucca and prickly pear remains, but not a lot.
The methamphetamine epidemic may be losing steam, but there's rumor of something new: croww-dressing. And rubber dolls. Lipstick on lonely wannabe cowboys without horses, and a dearth of actual women. I've seen only a total of three out there in almost two weeks.
It ain't like Snoopy's brother in Peanuts, idly leaning against a saguero (they're rare here, common over 50 niles to the south). There's work, then more work, total intoxication (not for me any longer though), work left undone and driving off to do this, that and the other. Always needing something else, always fixing something, and always in need of a wash. A fine state to be in for crossdressing, but I haven't seen it (yet, anyway), so I'll forbear further comment on that.
I had to return to clean up after a nephew who I knw to be more than a bit off (but failed to recognize how far; roots in Aspergers bi-polar disorder, hayperactivity, attention deficit disorder, ADHD, HADD, ADD, who knows (treated with Ritalin and who knows? prozac, xanax, similar stuff, for 10 years), and what could I do about it anyway? That he claimed to be a "Master Sadist" I just shrugged off - at 11, when I last saw him (10 years ago), he'd clearly been quite harmless. But once here, he augmented several knives he regularly wore (which apparently kept him from entering Canada at least twice) and desperado clothes, with a sword. Avowedly a MC and DJ at clubs, he apparently aspires to be a bad-ass vampire with radio-control over a zombie army of "collared girls". Or something. I've avoided gathering most details. He did e-mail me, a year ago, about his lightning-quick capacity against even guns. Hardly a big guy, he speculated about applying to be abouncer at our local bar (only 10 miles off), an occasional site of biker brawls. I was hoping that hands-on experience with fundamental realities would clue him in better. Who knows - maybe it has some...
At any rate, he'd decided to rebel against me, the only "authority figure" he had left to revenge himself against... despite that all I asked of him was to do some jobs for me, for pay. He preferred to spit into the wind, tie shoelaces from one shoe to the other, and generally shoot himself in both feet and both knees, to make a statement, I guess (aggravated at not recieving all he vehemently feels entitled to). Human shit adorned my floors, my clothes and bedding (among lots of other things) were all gone... there was nothing for the matress but to burn it.
Nevermind. I lost some stuff, some reference to my distant past - it happens. Especially out here. But the house stands - as it were (it's mostly underground). As ever, though, it demands work.
As does every aspect of life here: friends and neighbors are mostly rowdies, rodents abound, water needs hauling, and excrement (not only that of my nephew and his young playmates) dealt with. I had a Saturday-night poker game; two of the guys couldn't stop giggling, the bearded one of long mustachios telling the much younger blond one that he loved him and they should go outside and fight. I'd say it was a quarter to him, pay up or fold, and he'd reply he'd take two cards. Even play was work.
But it's beautivul here, and exshillarating. I pick up Amerind hitch-hikers, spot a huge rabbit so unlike native ones I know it must've descended from Angoras I once kept... the early-morning skies are fascinating, the clean air and over-mile-high altitude the best. And my house is almost naturally temperature-controlled.
Biggest similarity to Thailand: propane use (mostly for cooking, but I use a heater with a small cylinder for about 10 minutes before getting in bed). A big difference: radio. I like the Hopi station best, but not for the pow-wow music, which I find a bit boring. Fun to hear Hopi language sometimes, but not always.

What else of interest? How expensive Flagstaff is, like at the Central/Robinson that just opened in ChiangRai - if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it. Often, anyway. Folk at the WellsFargo Bank have been very nice and helpful, students at NAU give directions gladly and well. THere are still bookstores, but only a couple places sell music CDs (in all northern Arizona!). A cop pulled me for speeding (65 mph!) and I found my driver license missing (left at the band). No prob, no ticket, just a warning. And I got a Pendleton blanket for $30. Not as nice as the one my nephew left with, but that one was about $100!
Oh - and the best Thai resturant - Dara Thai. Way better than almost anything in Thailand, certainly than in ChiangRai. Three different dishes so far, all common back home but uncommonly good, indeed excellent, here.
Today it rained, tonight will be cold, maybe below freezing. I sure hope my visa comes through in time, but still don't know that it will. Wrote to the LA Thai consulate, so far no reply... and I don't even remember my new passport's number - it was issued this year, never used til now, and sent to that consulate... ah me.


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Damn the dams - a concise, simple explanation of how dams cause flooding (and Thailand's worst, and current, natural disaster)

Back in the Great Depression, FDR’s answer to a lot of problems was dam building: the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), established 1933, a massive program of building dams, hydroelectric generating stations and flood-control projects. It put a lot of people to work (like the 1935 Work Projects Administration, WPA), and remained held in a largely positive light throughout my youth. The Monarch of Th ailand instituted a similar program, which also seemed to work. What was overlooked is that many reproductive cycles are coordinated with flood cycles, the floods spread nutrients, the sediments which previously nourished the environment now silt up behind the dams (as does debris that previously provided food for a variety of organisms), and local temperatures are changed. Not only trees, fish and birds are affected, but micro-organisms, insect life, and other less popular, and loveable forms of life (which remain, nevertheless, important).
In recent years, floods seem to have been very much more destructive than usual, and in Thailand now, the flooding may come to be seen as the largest natural disaster the country has ever experienced. Containing water-flow within concrete embankments doesn’t reduce the volume of flow, but it just increases the rate of flow – dramatically. Water which cannot spread out, bend in its course, and meander peacefully, builds up angry power. Floodwaters become literally propelled downstream and, inevitably, the damage done to flood plains below is increased. The problem is exacerbated by deforestation and development which come with, or right after, cement utilization projects intended for flood-control.
Root systems acts as a vast sponge, and release water only very slowly, acting as a natural regulator to water channels. This tends to disappear with “development” – the root system of a golf course simply won’t help much (development, and having too many kids, as counterproductive). Human intervention has caused the runoff proportion of rainfall to vastly increase, almost unbelievably, to at least 90% more. Small amounts flowing slowly have now become huge amounts flowing swiftly. And our soil is rapidly losing its structure, becoming very vulnerable to erosion by wind and water. Silt accumulates, raising the height of river beds until they become higher than the surrounding land. China’s Yellow River, in the Yellow plains, now flows five to ten meters above ground level – in non-flood times! And raising the height of embankments only increase the severity of future floods.
As usual, I’m not providing a solution, or even new insights or knowledge. I’m merely trying to clarify our situation, by providing an easily absorbable description and analysis.
Negative effects of large hydroelectric dams include:
1. Death and destruction from flooding
2. Displacement of people and wildlife
3. Large amounts of plant life are submerged and decay anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen) generating greenhouse gasses including methane.
4. Migratory patterns for many animals are disrupted (or worse)
5. Dams hold back sediments which fertilized lands downstream, so now farmers use dangerous chemical fertilizers and pesticides to compensate
6. Salt water now intrudes into deltas
7. The reservoirs are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and otherwise assist in disease spread
8. Dams serve as a heat sink: the water is hotter than normal river water. This warm water, when released, can affect animal life and other things.