Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sidewalk Images #3

While wandering with friends through the grounds of a temple in the city of Ayutthaya north of Bangkok, we happened across a gathering of hundreds of hardened people from upcountry who were waiting patiently to receive a small meal handed out by volunteers. The line of time-worn people snaked around the grounds, slowly moving toward the free food. Most were chatting and joking with others, and all waved us over to get in line with them. We could find no one around able to explain what the occasion was that brought this group of obviously poor villagers together. It was not a religious holiday, although it was the fall equinox, and the temple had strong images of Chinese influence, so we thought it may have something to do with the astrological calendar.

I admired the tattoos of this proud, sun-baked man, rolling up my sleeve to show off my own, when he struck this pose. After I snapped the photo, he called me over to have me feel his muscles. I was able to understand that he had once been a Thai boxer, and to prove it, he insisted that I punch him in the chest. This was an honor for a foreigner to be given such an intimate interaction, despite the brief flicker of fear I felt, as I imagined being thrashed by a former Thai champion. So, I punched him smack in the pectorals. It was like hitting a side of beef (Well, I imagined it must be like I saw "Rocky" do it years ago). I marveled aloud "Kang lang!" (Strong!).
He laughed and shook my hand, enjoying the laughter and back slaps of his friends. I grinned, wai-ed, and went on my way. It was one of those moments that stays with a person and strongly etches one more piece of the cultural puzzle into the mind's eye.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Calling it Quits?

"We're a cross between our parents and hippies in a tent." -- Greg Brown, "Spring Wind" from the CD Dream Cafe.

What happened to us? In our 20s, our optimism and energy was unbounded: We believed we could change the world, and we did. But then we got complacent, or was it jaded? How could we just stand by and let our country turn into one big strip mall, our manufacturing jobs go to overseas sweat shops (buying their products back from Wal-Mart), and credit cards become a way of life?

We've been in one military disaster after another (remember "No more Vietnams?"), and we remained quiet while American soldiers and innocents died. Did we simply replace the communist threat with another perceived bogeyman, which assuaged our guilty conscience? Did we wipe our hands clean after our initial successes, handing off the responsibility of a healthy planet to those younger, as we turned to the more "important" chores of careers and parenthood?

From what I've observed working with young people for nearly 40 years, the latest generation, although intelligent and capable, is too self-absorbed to do anything more than sit idly by, as they lack the highly personal experience of involvement to do anything; today's insulated internet youth do not have the energizing influence of being in touch with the real world or nature.

Are "boomers" a dying breed? Will the world never again see the emotion, the passion or the drive to make things better? It's a shame we gave up.