Eighteen million degrees? Ten million miles per hour? What? Who? What? What's Dana going on about now? Hey, and why can't this guy write normal anyway? Where's the broads, and where are the beers, and how much do they cost? That's what I'm interested in. My name is Nigel Crumley from the U.K. (England to you fxxxing Yanks) and I gots what the Thai bitches want and . . . eighteen million degrees and ten million miles per hour? What's that all about?
Greetings Thailandstoryites and Dana fans:
Sometimes it is fun to bring a little relativity to the world we live in. Example:
Foomy (soon to be known as Wife) and myself (soon to be known as Sucker) are in Essan visiting the parents of Foomy (do not do this). It is summer in Essan. Everyone is talking about how hot it is. It has been getting hot in the summer on this planet Earth every year for the last ten thousand years but apparently this year it is a big surprise. Anyway, the house is hot, and the sun is hot (knock me over with a feather), and the silverware is hot, and grandma's head is hot . . . etc.
Ok, it is hot in the tropics in the summer but I can not help but reflect that on Jan 23rd 1999 Gamma Ray Burst (GRB990123) equaled the radiance of 100,000 trillion suns. That is 100,000,000,000,000,000 suns. Now I'll bet that was hot. I'll bet grandma's head in that place in the universe would have looked like a venting gas well.
Ok, it's a private pleasure that is hard to share with people who think the sun goes to sleep at night, and the moon is blown through the sky by the wind. Fun though. It can be lonely in Essan if you are a farang. Sometimes the stars are my friends.
It is late afternoon and we are six miles south of the Friendship bridge on what will be a two day trip home to south-east Essan when my wife announces that we need to get some refrigerator magnets and she wants strong ones that will hold up the kids' drawings. She wants velly maak magretoosem. Ok, it took me about five farang brain thrashing minutes to figure out what she was saying, and I want some farang husband credit for hanging in there.
About a week later (everything in Essan is 'about') we are buying refrigerator magnets in a four corners general store that appears to have everything except a sign on the front of the building. You can't love these places more than I love these places.
"Popsicle sticks sir? No popsicles on sticks? Yes, I have three. Ok, I have two--the dog has the third one. Big discount on dog popsicle stick sir."
"Plutonium sir? I put on backorder. Come next week."
"Pink socks for baby feet sir? No ploblum. Only one sock--how many feet baby have?"
"Fish eyes and monkey balls sir? No ploblum."
"Spiderman pajamas with pussy hole? No ploblum kind sir."
"My neighbor's daughter is about to start work in a Bangkok massage parlor and she has to bring her own monogrammed penis cleaning cloths."
"Solly sir--all out. I do backorder--what her initials?"
"What are these--giant wooden whistles?"
"You put them in tailpipe of car sir. Make big sound like car broken. Velly big funny sir.
"Cell phone shaped like vibrator Mr. Kind Sir? No ploblum."
"Mystery snacks from China in clear plastic packages? No ploblum. Also good for farang constipation. Make you ass blow like whale spout."
"Unwashed womens' underpants sir? Yes sir--big seller with farang sir. I have two hundred pair: color, white, with brown stripe, yellow spot, and cartoon animals--Mickey the Mouse, Goofy dog, Pluto, Roadrunner chicken, Spiderman, Princess Lea, Osama Bin Laden, Yosemite the Sam, and Froggy Kermit. Velly big seller sir. No discount, no sniffing in store, no returns sir."
"My underpants sir? No sir, my underpants are not for sale. Velly big solly sir. But we do have postcards of my underpant for sale--4 baht each."
"Philippine copy of Indian copy of Viagra? Right here sir. Velly much quaranteed. Make you look like fighting rooster."
"Breast lotion sir? No ploblum and no backorder necessary. You rub on wife's breasts every night they get bigger kind sir. We also have for waterbuffalo penis. You rub on every night and he mate with even ugly female waterbuffalo."
Etc. . . . Anyway, with much girl talk and testing my Essan minx finally pronounces the magnets have enough magletootusiem (different spelling this time). I can't help but reflect that magnetar N49 is a neutron star with a magnetic field 1000 trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) times stronger than Earth's. A few refrigerator magnets from that star would be nice in case one of my talented (really dreaming here) children wanted to mount a granite or marble statue on the refrigerator door. Don't laugh. If my wife ever gets to time travel to other worlds the first thing she is going to ask for in the galactic gift shop is Mickey Mouse refrigerator magnets. Anyway, just thinking.
Did I share this witty fun idea with my Thai wife? No, but not because of the education, or the interest, or the language gaps. You can't talk to most humans about these things. Astronomy and cosmology, and big number enthusiasms are usually solitary pleasures. What are the odds that two cars in the Sahara desert would meet up? Sometimes you bump into someone who can talk of big things but not often. Most of the world is 'where are the broads and where are the beers?'
Conversation between the retail clerk with hair to her waist and my wife regarding the features and benefits of Mr.Kitty and Teddy Bear and Spiderman refrigerator magnets had been long. If I had had my shooting star clicker with me I'll bet it would have logged in around eight thousand words.
Why, you may ask, did it take my honey bunny, my life partner, the mother of my children so long to make a decision about refrigerator magnets? Hold on--it's going to be a bumpy ride. It turns out that the magnets were packaged in little blister packs and then hung on a revolving display stand hook. No refrigerator. Without a refrigerator to try them out on she had a hard time imagining how they would look in the house. Her brain spark just could not jump the gap. Then she got an idea--WARNING WARNING WARNING.
She came to me with that Asian Bambi soft-shouldered look and asked me if I would go to the house and get our refrigerator and bring it down to the store. Video of me would have shown a man who looked like stone. Just completely speechless and my big complex Western brain struggling like a fresh caught fish in the bottom of a canoe. Really, I think farangs in the Kingdom should have medals to hand out to Thais at moments like this. And perhaps we could sponsor a once a year ceremony in which we tell the stories of what happened to us and we have the relevant Thais come up on stage and receive their medals. Anyway, she didn't push too hard with this idea. I think even the four synapse machine that masquerades as her brain knew this was crazy even for Thailand. Good for her--she is growing up. Jesus.
While Mom was exhausting the subject of kitchen accessories and childrens' art the kids and I explored the pink and blue plastic world of pails and shovels for the beach. Experiment showed that if I put a pink pail over my daughter's head and then made squealing pig noises she screamed and waved her little arms around. All pleasure is transitory but not all pleasure is equal. I used to be a free lance editor for an astronomy peer review journal. I never had this much fun.
An obscure relative (aka ahole looking for some of my farang money) of my wife's shows up in front of the house in a TPC (Thai Punk Car). There is much gunning of the engine. No muffler, no tailpipe, no hood over the engine. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom vroom vroom vroom. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom vroom vroom vroom vroom. Etc. In the house there is lots of talk about power. He can confidently say the farang word power so he won't stop. You could use his dick to ream out a soda straw but he has lots of power.
Power? Our sun burns at the rate of 5 million tons/sec. And that is just a local solar system baseline. Emission nebula N44F is throwing off 100 million times more mass per second than our Sun. Now that's power. Kinda makes you wonder how big N44F's dick is.
We take the kids to the water park in South Pattaya. This is an under-utilized waterpark that is a lot of fun. There I meet Brian Turpin and Frank Yazdani from England. So much to see, and so much to do, and so much to reflect on in Pattaya; and all these two British (that's England to you Yanks) expats can talk about are the big construction holes in the beach boulevard. Over Brian's shoulder I can see my wife's breasts. When I first met her they were pointed at the stars, now they are pointed at the ground. I am having trouble paying attention to this big hole talk from my expat friends. Everything is relative, and when you mix in astronomy; well . . .
Big holes? At the heart of galaxy M87 (NGC4486) is a black hole with the mass of two billion suns. TWO BILLION SUNS. Now that's a big hole. I once picked up a woman at the N.E.P. in Bangkok and took her over to the Mothership. She had just given birth and believe me when I tell you she had a big hole, but nothing compared to M87. Anyway, I don't think the Thais could ever leave a construction hole around with the mass of two billion suns for tourists to stumble into--but I'm actually rooting for them.
The wife and the wife's husband (me) are at the bottle rocket festival. You don't want to miss this if only for the charm of absolutely no safety considerations of any kind. The kids are fascinated and I am getting a bottle rocket-by-bottle rocket blow-by-blow account regarding height and speed and noise and power. Where did this word power come from? Oh yeah, that idiot relative of my wife's with the loud car. I feel like saying to my small sun (oops, astronomical slip) and my small daughter:
"The clouds of the Pencil Nebula NGC2736, a supernova remnant, are advancing with tsunami speed at 500,000 kph (300,000 mph) and have been doing so for 11,000 years. Now that is power."
But I don't say anything like this to my children. They are just kids and sometimes Pappa is BORING. You know what else is a measure of power? My 4'9" Thai wife is now finishing eating corn cob number six. I don't know how she does it.
"It's so cold Pappa." -- We are north of Chiang Mai sleeping in a bamboo hut in the mountains. Please don't ask me why. I can explain gravity's effect on photons but I can not explain this. You can smell pig stuff on the ground under you. It is the season that is not the hot season in Essan. People are walking around in sweaters and in wool hats. We go to another mystery general store and hilarity almost ensues. I love these places. To wit:
"Galvanized gutter completely rusted out from one end to the other sir today's best deal sir ka. I have sixty feet. No need for downspouts. Rain go right through gutter sir. Big savings. I give you lucky discount for first sale of the day. Ka. Ka."
"String of Christmas tree lights on sale sir. No bulbs, just empty sockets. Yes sir--velly big discount."
"Reconditioned bongs sir? No ploblum kind sir."
"Green Wellington boots sir? Yes sir--no ploblum. We have seven boots. No pairs--just seven boots. Buy seven piece set get velly big maak discount. Make boom-boom wife. She wear boots. Big exciting. Is Thai way."
"Fighting rooster medicine? Yes sir--no ploblum. We have testicle lotion make rooster fxxx dog sir."
"Hello hansum man kind sir ka."
"I'm looking for a screw."
"Yes sir--no ploblem sir--you have come to the right place for a screw. We have big screw, long screw, tight screw, old screw, and short fat screw. What kind screw you want?"
"What is this, a Chinese snack?"
"No sir kind sir ka. It is plastic dog poop. Put on wife pillow. Velly big maak funny. Also have plastic chicken poop. Made in Malaysia sir. Muslim approved. Buy both big discount."
"Why do you have surgical tubing?"
"Two reason sir hansum man sir ka--for slingshot and for tourniquet for cobra bite. Many snake in store.
"Sa wa dee ka--bras for Thai ladies with no breasts? Yes sir, three sizes: (1) velly small (2) extra velly small (3) Sweet Jesus on a cracker can she be legal?"
"What are these--cherries?"
"Not for peoples sir--for dog."
"Mai dee dog kind sir ka--sick doggie--stopped up dog. Dip fruit in kerosene, add chili powder. Go through dog like bottle rocket. Take video. Big exciting."
"Sa wa dee khrap."
"Sa wa dee ka. You speak Thai well."
"Do you have any American flags?"
"We have French flags. Same colors. Same ka, same ka--same same ka ka."
Note: Ever try to order something you know they do not have? Try to keep a straight face and read on . . .
"Sa wa dee ka."
"Do you have any atom bombs?"
"We have roach bombs sir--just as good ka."
"Can I order an atom bomb?"
"Yes sir--no plublum sir. 100 baht deposit.d"
"Can I order a nuclear warhead for my little boy?"
"Yes sir--no ploblum sir--75 baht deposit."
Anyway, I buy sweaters and hats that the wife and the children will wear for about five days. When my wife puts on her wool hat I can suddenly see her black mustache. I take off the hat. She puts the hat back on. Off - on - off - on: I am married. Think about it. If you are ever in my village looking for me, just ask the locals where the wife who is shaped like a bowling ball and has a black mustache lives. No, wait a minute--that's half the village. Sigh.
"It's so cold Pappa." -- Cold? Cold you say? A dark nebula named Barnard 68 is minus 263 degrees centigrade (-440 degrees Fahrenheit). Now that's friggin' cold. No amount of Viagra is going to work in Barnard 68 land. Anyway, it is just a thought about relativity and a private pleasure. I don't say anything. Just pay the bill.
At the bottle rocket festival my Thai kids were trying to say the word explosion. Made me wonder how some words and phrases got started. Sort of a Dana rumination on language and astronomy.
In 1000 B.C. a supernova exploded and lit up the Earth's sky for weeks. I wonder if that's when the phrase 'What the fxxx?' got started.
And in 1987 supernova SN1987a blazed with the power of 100 million suns for several months. Luckily, we already had 'What the fxxx?" in the IAV (International Astronomy Vocabulary). Coming shockwave? Glad you asked. Oh yeah . . . 10 million degrees centigrade (18 million degrees Fahrenheit) moving at 16 million kph (10 million mph). Don't buy any green bananas Earthlings. How would my wife prepare for this cataclysmic astronomical tsunami? Buy more refrigerator magnets.
My wife announces in the middle of the night and out of the Essan blue that we need (aka she wants) another flashlight. Ok, like the conversation (aka wife announcement) six miles south of the Friendship bridge it took me a little while to figure out what she was saying.
Me: No problem--we already have flashlights in the house.
Wife: Me no like . . . etc.
It turns out that she wants (we need) one of those big giant black flashlights (torches for the U.K. tribe) that security people and military people use because it will be 'blighter'. I grit my teeth and reflect that Pistol Star GO.15-0.05 is 25 million times as luminous as our sun. TWENTY-FIVE MILLION. That's 'blight'. Think of the batteries that star needs. In the half light of the bedroom I look at Foomy out of the corner of my eye. She doesn't know anything about 'blight', and I am not 100% convinced she knows where babies come from. I buy the flashlight and the bag of expensive batteries. Soon it will be useless, unloved, and forgotten; just like the sweaters and the hats. Just like me?
Sometimes it gets lonely here in Essan. I go outside at night. I look up. I think about the stars. Without the private pleasures and sipping fun of goofy relativity where would I be? Training the dog to sit? Selling myself to my next door neighbor as an interesting person? Taking a correspondence course in locksmithing? No, no, and no.
In an infinite universe there is no increasing rate of expansion, only accelerating expansion from a local point of observation. All else is the deception of locality and you forfeit any possibility of meaning in your life. The very small village myself and my family live in is maybe so remote that it does not even qualify as a locality. It's a geographic singularity: beyond anything positive or negative. A cul de sac that captures without ejecting. No nebula flees this place. No stardust observer could ever find us. It charms but it doesn't love, it exists but it doesn't matter. On an absolute scale there is no difference between me and a gecko. In fact, I would not want to be challenged on this. Maybe the gecko knows more about physics, astronomy, and cosmology than I know. Anyway, my wife will make no imprint on the cosmos. My children have no value other than breeding. No wonder humans mainline emotion.
Renunciation of popular expansion theory takes away some of the fun, but without adherance to facts we are just roosters crowing and dogs barking. Nobody wants to be a negative person at the theory party but we owe it to ourselves to act with intelligence. We may be competing with geckos. Refrigerator magnets are galactic birds chirping--telling us of important things. I love the sound of my wife's voice, and I love the sounds of my childrens' voices; but I don't believe those sounds are as important as refrigerator magnets. You register sounds, but you listen to important things. Talk to me of electromagnetism and watch me listen.
Do cosmology and astronomy ever put their arms around each other without prejudice and labeling? Yes they do. The lines blur when a fact exceeds a human's ability to understand it in an experiential way. If you tell someone you understand 90 million degrees Fahrenheit what you are really saying is that you understand the math, or you understand the mathematical notation. No human can appreciate a temperature of 90 million degrees, or a speed of 22 million mph. This is when cosmology and astronomy start to copulate and blur at the edges like two melding nebulas.
Humans may be able to pose the right questions and mathematically answer the questions: but that is not the same as understanding any of it. And there is too much to handle in a lifetime. You have to specialize. As the physicist Feynman said, and I paraquote--
'Einstein was a giant. His head was in the clouds and his feet were on the ground. Most of us are not that tall.'
You have to make a choice: abstract physics or experimental physics. Math or lab bench. Already you have restricted yourself. And those that can't do either? They teach. Beware the bragging physicist. Oh, and there is a fourth category--me. Where do I fit in? My job is to sit on the deck of my house in Essan with a clicker and count shooting stars, or put a compass on the handrail and fumble with star chart updates looking for something new. I'm not qualified to carry Einstein's suitcase, but I know an escape capsule when I see one. Staring at the stars is my escape from Essan.
I wonder sometimes if someone out there in another galaxy is doing the same thing that I am doing. Yearning for a world of solar winds, galactic dust, and intelligent conversation--something new. If I can avoid a bottle rocket up the rear, and if I can avoid stampeding water buffalos; I'll live long enough to watch my kids grow up, and I'll live long enough to watch my wife age. When I met her she was fascinating. Now she is predictable. Then what? It all seems like a waiting game with no prize in sight.
Sometimes it gets lonely here in Essan. I go outside at night. I look up. I think about the stars.
© Dana. All rights reserved by the author.