Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The God of Writers

I'm setting off on Thai Die, the next Betsy Devonshire mystery. I know who dunnit, how, and why, and this one will have a mysterious disappearance as well. It's always exciting to begin a new work, just as it is immensely satisfying to finish one.
But this novel will be especially fun because I'm going to work in details of my trip to Thailand last year. Thailand is the most amazing country, exotic and beautiful, with kind, good-humored, polite people – and wonderful food. You think Thai food here in the States is good? (I sure do!) Well, Thai food in Thailand is even better, probably because the ingredients are fresher – vegetables picked that morning, seafood caught that day. Hotter, too, if you like spicy. I am not much of a fan of hot food, but I thought their tom yung seafood soup is fantastic, even while it felt as if it were setting fire to my teeth.
Thailand is a curious mix of "a lot like us" and "really different from us." The skyscrapers in Bangkok are like something from a futuristic science fiction movie, yet there are beggars on the street – many suffering from diseases or disabilities we have cured in the USA. Budhism is the national religion, and it's about as far as you can get from the Protestant Work Ethic. Buddhism is about relinquishing your affection and desire for the things of this world. Nirvanna happens when you become perfectly indifferent to worldly things. Yet the Thai entrepeneurs make American merchants look like Buddhists. Small example: I paused to look at an elderly woman selling post cards outside a temple. I didn't want any post cards, I wanted a hat like the one she was wearing. But she wasn't selling hats, though she was perfectly happy to sell me her hat. It was an old one, with a hole in its brim. I was shaking my head and handing it back when a young man appeared as if by magic, holding a brand new version of the hat in his hand. And of course it was for sale. How many did I want? I looked around, and there was no sign of a hat stand anywhere, so I don't know if I brought me the hat off his own head or if he was psychic, or . . . No, he wasn't an illusion, as I have the hat in my office this minute. Wait a second, let me check . . . Yes, there it is, looking more like a lampshade than ever. Interestingly, the Thai think they aren't that much as merchants, citing the Chinese as the best merchants in the world.
Another of my souvenirs is a small bronze statue of Ganesha, a four-armed, elephant-headed god. He is half god, half human, actually. I don't know why I found him so attractive, far more so than the other gods encountered over there. (The Buddha was a human being, not a god, so Buddhists are free to believe in any god or gods they choose. And they select from all the other religions on earth.) Maybe it's the friendly look on his face. He is in charge of beginnings, no Hindu (or even many non-Hindus) would begin a project of any size, from taking a new job to building a house, without invoking his aid. I saw this statue of him for sale in a giant warehouse full of interesting things like statues, amulets, small carvings, and jewelry, and bought it. Only later did I also find he is also in charge of writers. So he stands on my desk, encouraging me to greater efforts – he himself broke off one of his tusks to use as a pen to write down a wonderful poem he was hearing. With the example of such a sacrifice always before me, how can I complain that I'd rather be at the movies than sitting here writing? If you want to see a picture of my statue, go to, click on Adventures, and look for the small gold-colored statue in the upper right corner. Click on it to enlarge.

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