Friday, January 30, 2015

The Other Side of the World - #2

A place where you order a kiwi smoothie, and someone starts peeling a kiwi.  And blueberry soda pop... I took one sip, and ordered another.  Yes, real blueberries.  Things don't say, "% fruit juice" here.  It's like the idea of cutting fruit juice with acid and corn syrup never even occurred to them.

I started my fourth day in Bangkok alone, my cousin having disappeared like a thief in the night.  Or maybe he disappeared like a busy traveler, having crammed as much of the Land of Smiles into three days as we could.  Either way, I was on my own, but had to keep moving.  I had just gotten my 4G setup, but my glasses and clothes shopping would have to wait.  I had an appointment in Pattaya with a dentist.

Negotiating is one thing I have no experience with, and was not prepared to do so with a dentist.  Half of me screamed, "Don't short-change the guy with a needle in my skull."  The other half said, "I really need to get this work done."  I got the six fancy replacements in the front, which composes 95% of my smile.  One was actually filling a missing tooth.  I got the two cheaper caps you can't see, but he talked me into getting the titanium bonded to ceramic.  I still paid just under $3,000, but I didn't get the rest of my teeth whitened like I had hopped.  Maybe I can still look into that at the end of the trip if I'm not broke by then.

I had four silk dress shirts commissioned from a taylor for $22 a piece.  Now that I know a little more, I think I could have talked him down to $20, or even $18 if I purchased five.  And of course since they are custom, I had to customize them.

As for other clothes, I found the quality questionable, and I don't have the knowledge to do the answering.  Two items I purchased had the stitching fall apart.  I've decided not to buy my new wardrobe here.  I honestly don't want to lug the clothes around anyways, and I can get the clothes I have laundered at reasonable prices.

With a mouth full of temporaries, I headed back to Bangkok for glasses.  It was a hassle to say the least, but it didn't have to be.  Two minor communication issues caused quite a bit of unnecessary waiting.  But I spent that time waiting in Bangkok, so I had fun.  When I got them my new lenses, they were high quality, and inexpensive.  Then it was back to Pattaya to have my new teeth affixed, which I would also describe as high quality and inexpensive.

I write this now from my my $40 a night eighth floor condo, while a gentle breeze wafts in through one of the massive windows.  It, of course, has a big screen LCD, and a kitchen; both of which I've never used.  I recommend it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Helping Battle Cancer

“I think you need to go back there tonight; we agreed she needs help managing her meds.”

It's my turn to post and I don’t have a story to write, unless you count my suddenly, after thirty-two happy years of marriage, batching it.

Our dear elderly friend has been battling cancer for several years, and my wife, Ellie, and I are her primary non-medical care-givers. Ellie is “hands on;” I have been in the background. Ellie had, perhaps a dozen times in the last few years, stayed overnight with her in the course of helping her with this fight. The first few once-weekly chemo treatments; in case of a bad reaction overnight. Occasionally when they had to be at an appointment early in the morning; for logistical reasons it is much easier to start from her place than from ours. Her first few daily radiation treatments. More recently her energy has nose-dived and Ellie has needed to be there as much for emotional support as for actual physical aid and comfort. These were short-term; although I missed Ellie's companionship and lying next to her overnight, I supported her doing this.

On the Sunday before Christmas, completely unaware of the implication of my suggestion, I said to Ellie, who had come home from our friend’s and was intending to stay the night, that I think she should return, “as we agreed she needs help managing her meds.” She had, indeed, shown signs of overdose the prior week and clearly needed help if she needed to take the same med more than twice a day … which she did need to do. Ellie returned, realized her help was badly needed, thanked me for suggesting she return, and hasn’t slept in our bed since; it’s coming up on five weeks.

Ellie and I have lived together our entire thirty-two married years, rarely had been in different locations overnight and now she’s gone. At first I thought this an adventure. Not as in, “wow, is this going to be fun,” but as in “life will be different for a while, I wonder how I’ll experience it!” I looked forward to finding out.

I sure found out. She left just before the Christmas Holidays, and I joined them for the holidays. They spoiled me by sending me home with lots of leftovers. Meatballs; soup; bread; sausage; pie; chili; dip; crackers. As time went on and I finished off the leftovers, I realized that if I were to eat, I’d have to shop for groceries; and put them away. I’d have to make a list.

Other findings: if I wanted clean dishes, I’d have to wash them. Same for clean clothes. I’d have to reprise my role as bill-payer. If I wanted to see the top of the dining room table, I’d have to do a better than half-baked job of sorting the mail that had been piling up. In short, I needed to consciously care for the environment in which I was living.

As the time lengthened, I realized I was no longer learning how I’d experience Ellie’s absence, I was actually experiencing it. I learned, without reservation, that I prefer sharing our house with my spouse. But our friend is battling cancer, she both needs and welcomes Ellie’s on-going presence, and I am more than willing to batch it, even for the long haul, if that helps. She is my friend, too.

What started as a short term adventure had become a long-term accommodation and I noticed a change in my experience of it. I spoke with Ellie about this; she, too, felt the change as we segued to a long term commitment.
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Other Side of the World - #1

A week after my whirlwind journey began, it has slowed to a gentle breeze here on the beach.  This is how I saw my trip, and it is how I'll be spending the next three weeks.  Not necessarily on the beach mind you, but going where I want, when I want, at the pace I want.

The journey over consisted of a total of twenty-one hours flight time, with plenty of hurry up and wait in-between.  It didn't bother me so much because it was all carrying me closer to paradise.  Some of it was even pleasant.  I slept about twelve hours of it, and was able to re-watch one of the new Cosmos.  Plus the drinks were free.  I would highly recommend ANA airlines.

There was one extended layover in Japan which I was looking forward to.  That's where I met my cousin, who would be joining me for the first few days of my trip.  He's similar in age to me, but just far enough away that we weren't children at the same time.  I'm sure it would not have taken us thirty years to get together for an adventure if we had been.

Tokyo was fun to see it, but the logistics didn't quite work out well.  My understanding was that a big enough city never sleeps, but Tokyo does appear to get a good eight hours in every night; which is understandable.  Or maybe I was just not in the right places.  That and travel time, and it was a Saturday; we were left with about five hours to see a couple of things.

He did not have a clear destination, so I suggested we check out a maid cafe.  My understanding was that it would be something like a Hooters, but with legs instead of boobs, and might be themed somehow.

We did find a couple, but chose not to partake.  It turns out they do wear cutesy maid outfits, and show lots of leg, but most of the cuteness came from the the fact that they all seemed to be thirteen to fifteen years old.

Now nothing nefarious appeared to be going on mind you.  Seeing a young girl's legs is not shocking, and no one seemed to be doing any touching.  I'm not calling them out, but it wasn't for us.  And who knows?  Maybe that was just their theme, and maybe others have older girls.

We did poke around a few shops, and arcades, but our time was short.  My continued exploration of Tokyo would have to wait three and a half weeks.  We were off to Thailand, but that's another blog post, or maybe ten.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A New Tab

"What about material from other places?" he asked.

You may have noticed the new tab at the top of the page: From Bangkok. It's there to allow Benjamin to post material while on his Bangkok trip and for you, dear readers, to easily compile a list of just those postings.

Benjamin wondered, "But what about material from other places ... I might want to post while in other parts of Thailand, or on my way over or back from Japan?" I assured him that what would make such material particularly interesting is it is all material posted while on his trip to Bangkok, and you, dear readers, would not be confused by the specific geographic location from which it's coming.

If you disagree, or have other comments, please comment or drop either of us a line.
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Dear Walter, I Write Because...

I appreciate your input, and would like to respond to it.  It's clear to me that you are always looking out for me.  As I wrote, "Maybe he could have elaborated on that."  He did not, so I'm glad you did.

Your first charge is that I need to be careful, "ascribing feelings to others, as doing so frequently reveals more about the speaker than the others."

I was not trying to ascribe feelings; I was trying to discern belief.  That having been said, I'm not worried about revealing myself in this situation.  I grapple with these questions everyday, and would like to share my thoughts and conclusions with any who care to listen.  I'm also not worried about revealing myself to be wrong, even if that is the case, because someone like you might be nice enough to correct me.  I am worried about offending the bereaved, which I dearly hope is not the case.

Next you charge that, "You are calling the grieving friends and family members callous?"

"How callous is that?" was not directed at the actual mourners.  What I was trying to say is that it would be callous to be concerned primarily with yourself in a situation that is bad for you, and extremely good for someone you care about.  Imagine a coworker you enjoy chatting with at work tells you he's quitting because he won the lottery, and your response to him is, "Well, that's too bad."  That would be callous to ignore his good fortune, and focus on how it affects you.  To be clear, I don't think they are being callous by ignoring their loved one's good fortune.  I believe that deep down they recognize that their loved one's death is not good fortune.

Next you charge that I've created a false dichotomy of 'happy for you', or 'sad for me'.

The way you feel emotion is clearly different than the way I feel emotion.  I do feel mixed emotions about an event with mixed results, but to say that the good has no affect on the bad is not true for me.  I would not feel as bad about an event that had primarily good results.  I grant that it is possible, or even likely, that I am the exception.  Even so, I didn't see mixed emotions at the funeral.  I didn't see anything except grief.

I'm not sure what to make of this next statement.  "I wonder if you truly have as little understanding of this as your post suggests."

It sound like you're saying that, not only do I appear to have a low understanding of theology, but it appears to be so low that you suspect me of faking a lack of understanding.  I don't think it's fair to conclude that my understanding is low just because you disagree with me.  I spend a lot of time thinking about theology; I believe more that most.  I'd like to think that has given me some understanding of the subject.  On the other hand, I wouldn't continue to spend my time thinking about it if I didn't believe I have more to learn.

Next you charge that titling my posts "Theological Skepticism" suggests that I believe myself to have a "superior view".

If truth is the goal, than a skeptical view of reality is demonstrably superior to one of blind acceptance.  The truth doesn't always fall into our lap.  Even when it does, we can't know it's the truth until we've questioned, and verified it.  The advancements made in all areas of study since the enlightenment began have demonstrated this.  This does not mean that I think that seeking the truth as it pertains to theology makes me an expert on theology, but I'm positive I'm on the right path.

Your final charge is that I don't feel grief, and don't want others to feel grief for me.

If I've given you that impression, I've completely failed to express my point.  I believe death is a loss, and losses should be grieved.  I was only commenting on whether or not people really believe that death is good for the person dying.  Surely Andrea Yates, who drown her five children while they were still innocent so they could go to heaven, really did believe this, but I think she's in the minority.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dear Benjamin, I write because

I care and because someone has to say something about your post.

I think one has to very careful when verbally ascribing feelings to others, as doing so frequently reveals more about the speaker than the others. A recent example is your post, “Theological Skepticism - #3,” writing about your response to the funeral of a recently deceased acquaintance. Recalling the priest’s words you commented … please allow me a somewhat lengthy quote:

“After explaining that she will now be spending infinite time in an infinitely pleasurable place, he went on to say that this does not assuage our grief.

It doesn't?  Maybe he could have elaborated on that.  You could argue that our grief is for ourselves because we can't hang out with her for a while.  Sure.  But even then, how callous is that?  The best thing that could possibly happen to anyone, just happened to this woman, and instead of celebrating for her, I'm sad for me?”

About what you wrote ...
  1. “How callous is that?”
    You are calling the grieving friends and family members callous? Seriously? Feeling the loss of a “significant other” occurs frequently and is usually accompanied by a sense of loss, i.e., grief. To suggest this is callous is to engage in the pot calling the kettle black. It seems to me that to lose and fail to feel it is practically the definition of callous.

    Let’s consider two real situations, the truth of which I attest to.
    • I knew a young man who, wanting to give back to his country, joined the reserves. He chose this, he was excited to be able to give back, he went to boot camp. His mother would not have chosen this and she and her husband knew they'd miss him. They knew he was doing what he wanted, what he ( presumably ) loved, they supported him. But they have loved him, enjoyed uncountable interactions with him and his family, and these changed dramatically. They missed him generally and particularly in family situations. There were fewer of them. They grieved.

      This son did this after he had established his own family. But, commonly, this type of leaving home causes such emotional upheaval that we’ve named it: empty-nest syndrome.

    • A man I knew died of ALS. This dreadful disease slowly took everything from him but his consciousness. Without regard to the afterlife, his wife knows he’s better off. She’s happy it’s over for him, but there’s a large hole in her life. She misses him terribly.

      And yet, “I wouldn’t wish him back; he suffered too much.”

  2. “instead of celebrating for her, I’m sad for me?”
    This is a false choice. You state this as though we have a balance beam for our experiences ( on the plus side: she’s off to infinite pleasure for an infinite time; on the minus: I’ll miss her; my children will grow up without grandma ) and feel only the unbalanced result: more pluses and I’ll feel good, more minuses and I’ll feel bad.

    That isn’t how it works. Both pluses and minuses are present simultaneously and most of us feel both of them. Simultaneously. In equal measure. I celebrate for her and I’m sad for me. This is such a common experience, we’ve named it, too: mixed emotions.
In my examples ( and there are countless others ) those left are happy for the other. They didn’t want him to stay; they just knew they’d miss him.

I wonder if you truly have as little understanding of this as your post suggests. You’ve titled it, “Theological Skepticism - #3,” suggesting, I think, a superior view of something theological. I think not. If you truly feel no grief when losing people you have known, I question the depth and quality of your relationships with those people.

And I wonder … do you want me to miss you when you’re gone?

Your friend,

Walter ( WRj )
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Monday, January 5, 2015

What-Cha Watch'n?

I write this from my bedroom floor, all my furniture now in storage.  Last night was my last night off before my trip.  I traded a couple of days with a coworker in order to extend my trip, leaving me working these ten nights in a row before I leave.

I thought now would be a good time to tell you folks what's good on youtube, or at least what I like.  My job involves a lot of monitoring stuff, so some of what I watch are chosen because they only need 90% of my attention.  I could go on all day, so I'll give a top ten, in no particular order.

I imagine I could learn to create something artistic someday.  Currently I'm thinking about drawing, and this guy has very good educational videos on the subject.  I do realize that actually drawing would be a better start.

This is an example of video's about Thailand.  I've been watching this type of videos because thinking about my impending trip makes me happy.  Other videos I watch are just people walking around Bangkok and such.  I'm sure I will stop watching in ten days.

These are animated and fairly professionally done.  They talk about a TV show.  I'm note sure it they were able to get that aired.  I don't actually have a TV.  They're what some people would call "bleeding edge".  They do push comedy too far, and end up no longer funny.  It's still well worth watching for the videos that are crazy funny.

This is posted to Geek & Sundry.  It's hosted by Wesley Crusher, sometimes called Wil Wheaton, and is just about minor celebrities playing board games.  I've discovered several board games watching.  It's produced by Felicia Day, who fills in when they're short a person.  In my opinion, she should fill in more often.

She is very popular, so any description might be unnecessary.  She projects a very likable persona, and is often very funny.  She usually puts good effort into her videos, and posts every week.  I'd start with any of her "What your * means" videos.

She was once pretty popular too, but she's not as talented as Jenna.  She can be funny, but doesn't put as much effort into her videos.  She's just generally likable too, so you really can't go wrong.

Christina Rad
She is also likable, also funny, and has a hot Romanian accent.  I'd listen to her read the phone book.  Many, if not most, of her videos are about Atheism.

This guy is entertaining, and insightful.  Not every video is a gem, but the ones that are, are laugh out loud, and illustrate his point perfectly.  It's hard to pick just one to recommend, but I would say, start with If God Were a Car.

Creationist Cat
Just funny Atheist videos.  Not insightful or anything, but who doesn't like cat videos?

They read the Bible verbatim, and make fun of it.  I consider that educational and entertaining.  They also make fun of those little Christian comics people leave lying around.

You may think four out of ten are a lot of Atheist videos, but they make an even greater percentage of what I watch.  I could go on, and will if anyone's interested.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Saturday Night Phone Call

“All I know is I gotta get out of here.”

My wife is staying overnight with a dear friend; it’s Saturday night; it’s year-end time; I am working on tax stuff. Things are going smoothly; it’s 9:30 pm.

The telephone chirps … it’s our younger ( i.e., 45 year old ) son, Andy.

“Hey, ‘sup?” I answer.

“Sup?” he says. “I’m at Rosedale Mall and my car won’t start.”

I am stunned. “Your Infiniti? Won’t start?” I repeat as though on drugs.

“Yeah, that one,” he says. “All’s I get is a ‘click,’ nothing more. Can you come?”

I realized within 3 or 4 seconds I’d soon be heading to Rosedale Mall. But I’m hardly a mechanic and I was wandering into ‘then what?’ territory. I said, after what must have seemed to Andy like 15 minutes of deciding, “Of course I’ll come; what do we do once I’m there, though?”

“All I know is I gotta get out of here.”

“I’m leaving right now … see you shortly.”

While I’m driving out there, consider these things about Andy, his mother, and me:
  • his mother and I live in the central city
  • Rosedale is a shopping center in a first tier suburb, directly north of us and fairly close
  • Andy lives in a far flung suburb, about sixty minutes directly west
  • I had shoveled 4 inches of snow that morning, and slept much of the afternoon recuperating from that work … I’ve had an awful cough for over 3 weeks

I find him. “Well, I found that Infiniti ownership includes Roadside Assistance,” he says; “They’ll be here about 10:35. They’re confident a jump will start it, almost certainly a weak battery.”

Good news; the bad news is that we’re about 20 minutes away from 10:30. “I have cables,” I said, “Let’s try our own jump.”

We connect my good, thick, long, copper cables. The Infiniti was not impressed.

After 15-minutes was added to the ETA, the Roadside Assistant tech shows up. He gets out his portable power source and clamps onto Andy’s battery, “Get in and start it. We’ll have this going shortly.” He was wrong; I intensely disappointed. “Turn your lights on.” The lights are very bright. “Nothing wrong with your battery,” he says, “the starter is shot. We’ll have to send a tow truck, which I’m not. I’ll call it in, but I suggest you call, too.” He fills out his paperwork, makes a phone call, gives Andy his copy of everything, and disappears over the horizon. We’re as far from a solution as ever.

“Hell, no, I’m not going to wait another ninety minutes,” Andy is saying into his phone. Then, calmer, “OK, yes, I’ll put the key in the glove box, leave the doors open, and you’ll take it to Bloomington Infiniti.”

“So you don’t have to be here?” I ask.

“Right; they’ll come and get it, keep it til Monday, and take it to the dealer.”

“What now?” I ask.

“I really need to get home, of course … but …  but I can’t expect …,” he stammers.

It suddenly seemed obvious. “I’ll take you home.” I started the car.

I was looking at a very short night: my wife and our friend were picking me up at 6:30 for church, and I needed to finish some of my year-end paperwork to take with.

We had a pleasant chat and Andy bought me a Mountain Dew for the drive home. I finished the paperwork and got to bed in plenty of time to catch two hours of sleep before my wife came by. I was wide awake, alert, happy.

It’s what we do for our kids, no matter how old.
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