Our Crowded Planet

The Amazon deforestation, the oceans, droughts, famines, fires, pollution, endangered species… I could write a blog on each of them. They are all linked to something few seem to talk about these days: Overpopulation.  Is this such a moral landmine that we ignore it – to our peril?  Population multiplies all of these problems.  The current global population has crossed 7.7 billion and is heading upward; growth is exponential as are the demands  our limited resources: water, land, trees, food and fossil fuels.

Here’s what Jane Goodall has to say:

“In order to slow down climate change, we must solve four seemingly unsolvable problems. We must eliminate poverty and change the unsustainable lifestyle of so many of us. We must abolish corruption. And we must contain our growing human POPULATION. There are 7.7 billion of us today, and by 2050, the UN predicts there will be 9.7 billion.” It is no wonder we despair but she ends with “I’m still optimistic…. about the resilience of nature, our intellects, social media and the power of young people.”
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Mitigating population growth would have more impact than virtually any other climate policy! Women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families. Let’s promote female empowerment, especially in the developing world. Reproductive rights are an environmental as well as a social issue.

 

  

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Let me end with some pictures of our beautiful world.

 

A planet worth saving.

ALFIE GOES TO THAILAND: An Interview with Writer James King

My guest today is English writer and expat, James King, who lived for many years in South Africa then emigrated to Thailand in 2011. His writing runs the gamut from nonfiction to poetry and more recently, novels. I “met” James online as a fellow blogger on jamoroki.com and Displaced Nation. He is also a  photographer and thus the source for the beautiful landscape photos accompanying this post.

You grew up in England and now live in Thailand. Tell us a bit about that.
I’m a West Country lad, born and bred in Bristol where I grew up in the suburbs and later moved to the surrounding countryside, then ended up back in the City, until I emigrated in 1995 to South Africa.

What life is like for an ex-pat in Thailand?
You notice the difference immediately, because the Asian culture requires Westerners to re-evaluate their views and leave the West behind. If you don’t, you’ll have a hard time. I have to admit it wasn’t easy, and it took me nearly five years to acclimatize to the Thai ways, and accept I couldn’t and shouldn’t even try to change the things that irked me. Once I did I was OK, although I still have my moments.

Your new trilogy series is described as a “drama and psychological romance with damaged characters in a tropical sauna.”  (I love that.) Tell us about “ Alfie Goes to Thailand.”

due for release Oct-Nov 2019

In the first novel, Post-It Notes, Alfie pieces his life together after an acrimonious divorce. He finds a place where no-one knows him, and works out why he is so depressed, after being set free by his third wife.  Alfie’s adventures hot up, as a conniving Mother and her wicked daughters, plot his downfall. The dangers are exacerbated by crooked builders, and rogue property traders, exposing him to a hair-raising ride through Thailand.

What was your inspiration for these stories?                                                       When I published my Thailand Diaries in 2011, I did it as an experiment, knowing nothing about self-publishing at the time. The books were raw, and so was I from a bad experience, and I left a lot of sensitive stuff out. As a result, they ended up as a sort of rambling, tongue-in-cheek travel guide that Lonely Planet wouldn’t have given the time of day to. I knew all along that I would have to do something. Either re-write them, ditch them or, I wasn’t sure what. Then one day, in a dream or drunken stupor, it dawned on me. If I took the best material from the diaries and the material in my dump file, that was too sensitive to include, I had all I needed for three psychological, dramatic ,romantic novels, full of seriously damaged characters, and extraordinary happenings. So, I had the story, I had the characters and I had the inspiration. But could I do it justice and sell it. Time will tell.                                                                                                  Your reply only piques our curiosity about “ the sensitive stuff.” Maybe we can glean some of this from your writing! (BTW I enjoyed the Dairies!)

What books, writers and other artists have influenced you?                 Music, film, art and literature, have had a great influence on my life. Who could fail to be moved by Shakespeare, Dickens, Hesse, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, among others. They have all had a profound effect on me one way or another.

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Workers in a rice field photo by J King

Describe your writing environment

Most of the time I sit at a glass-topped teak desk peering at an ultra-wide 34 inch monitor, in our open-plan modern Thai bungalow. I built the home in 2016 in the rice fields of the Chiang Mai valley in North Thailand. We have no fences, walls or gates, and are surrounded by rice, fruit and vegetable farms, mountains, forest and jungle. It’s the biggest garden I have ever known, tended by hundreds of farmers and mother nature, and it’s all free. It’s either inspiring or distracting depending on my mood.

New rice

New rice field at sunset by J King

When and how did you discover your passion for fiction writing?        That’s kind of loaded question because until I publish my two series, this year and next, I won’t be sure if becoming a fiction writer was a good decision or not. I wanted to write for years before I started. It’s been a gradual and transitional process, starting way back with poetry. Then, when I first went to Thailand, I diarized my trips. After that I started blogging, which was when it started in earnest. To be honest it was a bit of a mish-mash for some time. Blog posts about anything that interested me, more poems, short stories, a photo-interview series for The Displaced Nation and South Africa Diaries, a series of articles for Expat Focus, and finally novels. I got there in the end and I’m sure the unstructured process has added benefit with each step.    

 

Tell us about your main character. Which is your favorite secondary character and why?

Alfie Mynn, the main character, cuts a sad figure as he wades through the trilogy. He is a moderately successful businessman from Cape Town, but an enigma when it comes to women. He is a genuine person who continually builds obstacles in his own path and then expends enormous energy overcoming them. It’s as though he can’t live without having problems to solve. And because he can’t resist a challenge he has plenty of them.                                     My favourite secondary character is the mother of Alfie’s partner, Nin. Known as Mother throughout the story, she is a matriarch who rules her family with an iron fist, no love and no normal motherly traits.

 

Please share a few favorite lines or a paragraph:  Taken from the first novel – POST-IT NOTES.

“I found myself in a dismal place, a rough dirty market area, farther from nature than I had ever been, and I was lost. There wasn’t a paint shortage in Thailand, but where I was, it looked like nothing had been painted in a hundred years. Paint was big business, but there was very little left on the buildings I was looking at. So, where was I? There didn’t seem to be many tables with more than three legs in the food place I just passed. The few bricks and the hole in the wall which made up for the missing legs was ingenious. So well disguised nobody who was eating noticed or, if they did, they didn’t care. Why should they? Even if the surroundings were squalid, the food filled them up, and it only cost a few baht.

I picked my way between the dilapidated tables and pots of boiling food, that smelled like pork but could well have been a cocker spaniel. I must have looked out of place. Rats, as big as cats, and probably scared of farangs like me, scurried into any hole they could find… There were few windows, and the ones that still had glass in hadn’t been cleaned in a few lifetimes. So, there was either a business opportunity gone missing, unless people had concluded there was no market for window-cleaners. Copying the Thai smile, using some inventive sign language, and a ten-baht coin, I got general directions back to Silom Road, from a ragged old man who was sitting, hunched up, on a plastic crate. I think it was the coin that swung it. I’d just seen the dystopian side of Bangkok, another side of life, and a side I was pleased I didn’t live on.”

 

Let’s talk a bit about the Writing Process. When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?                    I’d say they go hand in glove. But in the main it’s what happens to the characters who already exist in my imagination or are drawn from life but aren’t developed as the story unfolds. Sometimes I have a story idea and then have to find the characters. Sometimes it’s the other way round.

What would you call your genre – why did you choose it?                           I didn’t set out to write in a specific genre, and never expected to write in the romance genre. But I was surprised to find I was writing a story about the overpowering need for most people to partner with another human being. Even the vilest horror stories usually contain an element of romance or love. And I can’t leave romance out of the Alfie goes to Thailand genre. It has elements of mystery, suspense, drama, psychological romance, and humour. I can’t pigeon-hole it, so I’ll get Amazon to put in as many categories as I can.

I agree.  I think most appealing books have a least a hint of romance. Do you write a book sequentially, from beginning to end? Or do you sometimes write scenes out of order?

So far I have done the latter. I’d prefer not to, but I’ve found when I’m in the middle of writing a novel all sorts of things come to me. I have to get them on paper or PC as quick as possible, then I’m often dragged out of the sequence for days.

I’ve found that too. Tell us about your process for naming your characters. How much importance do you put on names?                                    So far it has been rather disjointed and random, not scientific at all. I go a lot on gut feeling and have found that I often change a name many times till it feels right. So the answer to the last part is that names are very important.

Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?

They say, even though it may be rubbish you should get it all out before doing any editing. They may be right, and I have tried, but I just can’t do it. Every chapter I write has to feel right in essence before I move on, even though I will rewrite chunks of it later.

The Only Witness cover -JPGTo get a taste of his writing, James is offering a FREE short story – THE ONLY WITNESS – which introduces the main character, style and humour of the trilogy.  I reviewed it, but I like what this reviewer had to say: ” the true mystery isn’t the crime committed, but the difficulty the protagonist has in grasping how the Thai people respond to the crime. A wonderful portrayal of one culture struggling to understand the other and a great read!”    I read and enjoyed it in an evening…. let us know what you think!

James is happy to respond to questions here about this post or his books. You can also connect with him here:  Website: https://www.jameskingbooks.com/about; Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimKing28265666;      Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/jamoroki/;   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jimking9406417/

Sanity and Serenity in a Selfish World

Each day after reading or listening to the news I want to jump on my blog and rant. I’ve restrained myself, but maybe the world situation is why I’ve been remiss blogging this year (– or maybe that just an excuse). To gain some serenity I’ve been studying Buddhism recently and this is what I’ve gleaned.

Buddhism is not a religion, but interfaith and a spiritual lifestyle. You can start anywhere to understand this way of life, but there are principles to guide ones path and open our outlook:

• Your thoughts, conscious conduct (do the right thing) and speech (how often do we speak ill of someone?) are key
Suffering is part of life, but needless suffering comes from dwelling on it (especially when it is over or out of our control)

Karma – moral cause and effect.
Meditation, which is the attraction for many to Buddhism. I was never very good at this, but I do practice Tai Chi especially when stressed – that counts doesn’t it? In the same vein, is mindfulness.

Who remembers the book “Be Here Now” from the 70s? That book made me realize I was often living in the past or worrying about the future. Be Here Now is essentially mindfulness and reminded me to stop and be with my children in the moment.

Everything is connected. John Muir  came by this on his own with the environmental movement: When one tries to tug at a single thing in nature, we find it is attached to everything else in the Universe.”

“…in every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”                         The Iroquois Confederacy

Going back to the interconnectedness of religions, most teach values such as human dignity, equality, freedom, and peace and encourage the faithful to act with empathy to others. There are many prophets who have said similar things, like the “Peace that passeth understanding” which relates to meditation and prayer and is akin to Nirvana…and the Golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a common theme.  We turn to systems of beliefs that provide a more meaningful world.

Treat others with compassion and generosity. Avoid “toxins” like greed, ignorance and ill will.           Mahatma Gandhi said There is enough in this world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

Accept Change: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven; A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap…” from the biblical book Ecclesiastes; turned into song by Pete Seeger who ended with “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late” (later adapted by The Byrds) https://www.youtube.com/watch

Buddhism doesn’t have many ceremonies, but I read about a Tibetan center in Colorado with a rite-of-passage where parents and children face each other, bow, and vow to be kind to themselves, to each other and all beings. Isn’t that lovely?

Venezuelan Refugees – a ray of light

In a humanitarian gesture, Colombia is giving citizenship to more than 24,000 babies of Venezuelan refugees born in the country, who would otherwise be undocumented. “To those who want to use xenophobia for political goals, we take the path of fraternity,” said  President Iván Duque.  This in spite of the strain on the country’s resources.

 

Fleeing food shortages, blackouts and hyperinflation caused by Venezuela’s catastrophic economic collapse.

Nearly 4 million Venezuelans have fled economic and political turmoil in their country. Americans hear more about the refugee crisis at the US-Mexican border, but thousands cross the Venezuelan-Colombian border every day. They flee food shortages, blackouts and hyperinflation caused by the country’s catastrophic economic collapse.

This picture below is from a Cornish family’s year long sojourn in Colombia where many Venezuelans have found refuge.  Some enterprising soul has found a way to make a peso.….. making them into purses and wallets to sell!

“With inflation running at over 1,000,000%  Venezuelan bank notes are worthless….. Sad, but resourceful.”  See their blog : https://brierleysouthamericanadventure.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/visits-and-venezuelans/comment-page-1/?unapproved=145&moderation-hash=6be59317727dd3e01958da9fc25a4543#comment-145

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo

Breakfast with Buddha

Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This charming book is funny and wise. The main character gets roped into taking his sister’s guru on a road trip. Otto is skeptical and annoyed, but by the end of the journey he and the guru have become friends and he’s even tried meditating. I rarely give out 5 stars and this book isn’t “hi-brow literature,” but I must say it is delightful entertainment – and well-written. I want to read the next in the series.

View all my reviews (click “Favorites” in the left column to see my top rated books).

More California Wildflowers 2019

The ubiquitous California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and a fiddleneck to the left.

Now that the drought has broken, California is bursting with wildflowers. These pictures were taken in two areas south of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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There were carpets of baby blue eyes (above) in Canada del Oro– although this is a subspecies that is white rather than baby-blue. Contrast the colour with this one from Pacheco Park.

 

 

Woodland star –Lithophraga affine. Flowers are approx. 3/4 in. or 1 cm. across.

 

 

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Pacheco Park also had hillsides covered in blooms. The dominant species were shooting stars and violas.

 

 

This species of shooting stars, Dodecatheon clevelandii, takes on different colours.

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“To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour” – William Blake

* Desert Wildflowers and Cactus * 2019: Anza Borrego Part II – central and southern sections

As we drove south the flora began to change slightly – more ocotillo, agaves and many more cacti. I’d been looking for the magenta monkeyflower yesterday, without any luck, but found them to be plentiful up a couple of desert washes.

 

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Mimulus bigelovii – this monkeyflower only grows a few inches high but makes up for its size in brilliant color.

 

There are many types of cacti; here are the three common ones we saw.  The first group of slides show a group of  barrel cacti.

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Opuntia cacti are jointed. The prickly pear group can be flattened like the “beavertails,”  (Opuntia basilaris) below.

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Opuntia can also be rounded like the Teddy bear cholla (they still have “joints”). The spines are attached in a star pattern and break off in a cluster that are easy to sit or kneel on when trying to take a picture of something else. Ouch. I also found them deeply embedded in the toes of my boots and hard to get out.

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Desert sunflower Geraea canescens

 

Ocotillo (Fourquieriaceae splendens) a characteristic shrub of the desert, can reach 20-feet in height. The scarlet flowers had just begun to bud out last week so I imagine they are putting on a show now.

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(all photos by CCM except “beavertails” as noted)