David Almquist

At the base of Mt Kinabalu, in Borneo.  David is on the right.  Beside me are Joe Clack and Mart Lind.

On some damn river in Borneo

On the top of Mt Kinabalu (13,435 ft), freezing our asses off.  David is in the middle.


David was also a Peace Corps volunteer, and we shared many adventures together.  Here is one:

The Flood, the Mad Doctor, the CIA, the Opium Tribe, and Radio Peking, by David Almquist

Four weeks in Thailand in 1966.

When my friend Sam and I were Peace Corps Volunteers teaching in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we both had the month of December, 1966, off, and we went to Thailand.

The plan was to hook up in Bangkok with a Doctor of Linguistics, whom I’ll call Dr. Tommy. The idea was that in return for doing some cataloguing for the Doctor’s dictionary of the Miao language, he would then take us to see a Miao tribe in the hills of northeastern Thailand. The Miao originally came from China hundreds of years earlier, and their language had evolved into an entirely different language. Dr. Tommy was the first to attempt a dictionary. (N.B. Click here to see a review of the book he eventually published). In Thailand the Miao had been taught to grow opium poppies by the CIA to give them a cash crop in the hopes of keeping them independent from Chinese or Communist influence. (Your tax dollars at work.)

The Doctor had been involved in the education part of our Peace Corps training in Hawaii, but had been let go, possibly because of his drinking or his chasing after the female volunteers. Sam had had the foresight to keep up correspondence with him after he left.

Joined by an Australian Peace Corps Volunteer named Colin, we took off hitching for the Thai border but had to split up (Colin was a pretty big guy, and picking up three of us was a lot to ask of drivers.)  

So, in heavy rain, Sam and I reached the border toward evening, only to find at the border agents office that the border had closed for the night. (Who knew that borders closed?). We were in a pickle because we were some distance from the nearest village and no cars were headed back. Sam finally said, “Let me go talk to them again.”

He went back inside the little building and came out a few minutes later. He said they had confided that there was a part of the chain link fence that could be pulled open and a truck was waiting on the other side to take any after-hours laborers to the nearest town in Thailand, Haadyai. I told Sam, “I am never going to ask you what you did in there, but I want you to know I appreciate it.”

We got through the fence and sure enough there was a mid-sized truck, pointed toward Haadyai. The back of it was just an extended flat wooden platform that had no sides, and a bunch of workers were already sitting on it. We jumped aboard, each with a small suitcase, and were eventually joined by another half dozen or more workers, and the truck took off.

It was still pelting rain and the fields right and left of the road, which was raised like a levee, were now lakes of water. At one point we saw a half of a bus sticking up out of the water off to the right, like a sinking ship. Not very reassuring.

And it got worse. As night fell, the water got high enough that it covered the road, and two workers were recruited from our ranks to get down and walk point on the right and left side of the truck, so that it wouldn’t fall off the levee. How those two guys avoided falling off themselves I’ll never know. It was a pretty hairy ride.

But we eventually made it to the town of Haadyai, which was on higher ground and not flooded, but had small rivulets of water and puddles in the streets.

We found a hotel, where we had to leave our shoes in the lobby, and got a room on the second floor. Later, wasted on pot and Mekong whiskey, we watched out the window as a mini motor cart went by in the street, blaring a message in Thai through a loudspeaker. Knowing only a smidgen of Thai (based on a half dozen lessons from a Buddhist monk in Kuala Lumpur), we could only speculate what it was saying. Among our best guesses were:

“Flee”

“Run—For Your Lives”.

The next morning we looked out the window, and the street was flooded. Town folks were walking by, water up to their knees, chatting away, some pulling smiling children on wooden planks like it was an outing at the beach.

It turned out the lobby of the hotel was also covered with a foot of water. Neither of us found the sandals we had left against the wall. We each had a second pair of shoes, but we left the hotel barefoot, carrying our suitcases on our heads.

We’d been told the train station was still above water and headed there for a train to Bangkok. But we passed a café with an open front where a guy was cooking in a wok, powered by something other than electricity. We ordered noodles and went to a table. The water was up to within a few inches of the table top and covered the seats of the chairs. We put our suitcases on the table and sat with our feet on the seats of our chairs and our butts on the chair backs.

While we were eating, there was a commotion at the open front of the café. A couple of Thais were furiously splashing water out. Finally they stopped. We asked what it was. The answer: snake. (I had tried to avoid thinking about what might be underneath the water we were walking in.)

At the train station we were re-united with Colin (I don’t remember how he made it to Haadyai). We waited about four hours in one of the train cars, standing room only, and finally took off for Bangkok.

Living with Dr. Tommy in Bangkok were a Thai cook/housekeeper, with whom he was sleeping, and a very young Swiss woman with whom, as far as we could tell, he was not. In the beginning he didn’t act all that strange. A little herky jerky, as I remember, like Christopher Lloyd, the inventor in Back to the Future, and he drank a lot every evening. He did think the CIA were spying on him, which at the time I thought was imagined, but later decided was probably true. Why wouldn’t they check in once in a while on this white man visiting the Miao? But I don’t think they worried too much about him.

Colin, Sam, and I spent a week cataloging and occasionally sightseeing in Bangkok. But after a week the Doctor hadn’t said anything about visiting the Miao, so Sam confronted him about his end of the bargain. He agreed to take us north in a couple of days, but his attitude toward us immediately darkened. He was now convinced that we were working for the CIA, and he found everything we did suspicious. I remember asking about a book he had on his shelf, and he eyed me with a very sly look and said, “Why do you want to know?”

True to his word, two days later we were off to northeastern Thailand by train. But the Doctor had decided to move his entire household and resettle there. His suitcases and many boxes of work, together with our stuff, filled both overhead bins on both sides of one railway car.

We were all, to a man and woman, drinking Mekong whiskey on the trip, and all six of us were dozing when we suddenly realized that the train had already stopped at the town where we were supposed to get off. We began scrambling to unload all the baggage, and Colin, who had jumped down outside to receive the off-loaded bags, had only put two of them beside him on the platform when the train started to move. He looked up and said, “What should I do?” Luckily the Swiss woman had her wits about her and yelled, “Get back on the train!” So he grabbed the two bags and got back on.

We got off at the next stop, hours up the line, which was little more than a bench with a roof in the middle of nowhere, and waited for hours for the next train going the other way. It was two or three o’clock in the morning, not a village or a house in site.

But we did get back to our destination, settled the Doctor in, and the next day went to meet our guide in a very small village, not much more than a few shops, where we saw a small elephant pulling a cart down the main drag. The locals paid it no attention.

The Opium Tribe

The guide took the Doctor, Sam, and I uphill through the jungle for hours, and, just at dusk, we suddenly broke into a clearing, and I was stunned by what I saw. There was a huge rolling open space, maybe a half mile square, all dirt, totally cleared of vegetation, covered with mini hillocks and huts situated modest distances from each other, all of them lit by fires. It was a beautiful, spell-binding scene in the growing dark, like a fantasy village.

Sam and I were given little tunnel-like cubicles in the chief’s hut to sleep in. The Doctor was quartered elsewhere. We spoke only minimal Thai and the Miao spoke only Miao and one of the northern Thai dialects that was totally different from the Thai we’d learned, but somehow we got by.

Besides growing opium poppies, the Miao men were all addicted to opium at different levels. Some would do ten pipes a day, some did twenty. They were scrawny types, but had phenomenal energy, as Sam learned the next day when he went with the Chief to his field further off in the hills. Sam was in excellent shape, but really struggled to keep up with him.

Sam and I were invited to smoke with them, and after the first time I smoked, I lay down in my cubicle, expecting to see visions or have crazy dreams, like Coleridge did before he wrote the Xanadu, “stately pleasure dome” poem with that wonderful ending:

Weave a circle round him thrice
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise

So I lay down, waiting, but I just felt really, really comfortable, and was disappointed that I didn’t “see” anything. Sam got sick the first time.

The next day we both tried it again, and this time I felt nothing at all, but Sam got an excellent hit and was euphoric. I asked him how it felt and he said, “Like everything is totally all right. And everything will always be all right.”

I later figured out that my feeling really comfortable was part of what it was all about.

We learned a lot about pigs. They are reputed to be very smart animals, but not all pigs are smart. One moseyed into the chief’s hut, grunting loudly, and a tribesman whacked him really hard on the snout with a stick. He squealed in pain and retreated. But less than a half hour later the same pig came in again, grunting, and got soundly whacked again.

At night, when it got quite chilly in the mountains, the pigs formed a huge pile just outside the entrance to the chief’s hut to keep warm. I’d heard of pig piles, but I didn’t know pigs really did that.

The pigs were also a very efficient means of rubbish disposal in the village. There was never any trash or refuse anywhere. It was all bare dirt. And there were no outhouses. When you had to go, you went over one of many little hillocks for privacy. If you needed to do more than pee, you had to be quick about it, because the pigs sensed what you were up to, and could be on you before you finished. (Now if that isn’t enough to put you off bacon for life.)

The second night the Doctor got so drunk he fell down and was rolling around in the dirt between two hillocks. A couple of tribesmen watched him with mild curiosity, then walked away.

Our last night there, I’d gone to bed and began to hear a voice over a radio. I could only catch a few words here and there, but it sounded like Mandarin Chinese, which I’d studied for three years at college. I got out of my cubicle and realized it was coming from the Chief’s portion of the hut. I went in and there was the Chief, listening to Radio Peking. I began talking to him in my halting, limited Mandarin. Luckily his spoken Mandarin was no better than mine, so we had an easy, uninhibited talk, which was great after not being able to communicate with any of the Miao. I don’t remember what we said.

When we returned from seeing the Miao and said goodbye to the Doctor, we could see he was genuinely sorry to see us go, and we felt sorry for him. He had his Thai woman and the Swiss woman, but he didn’t seem to have any men friends.

Our trip was not quite over. Master Planner Sam had timed everything so that we could get to Chiengmai by the day before Christmas, where we knew there was a regional Peace Corps Office and might expect a Christmas Eve get-together. We showed up at the office, and they told us to come back at six.

When the Land Rover arrived to pick us and a couple of others up to go to the party, I got into the back seat next to a Thai Peace Corps volunteer. She was really cute, and we spent the night dancing, mostly to the Supremes, and were married three years later.

During the following year, she would attract the attention of both the Russian KGB and the CIA, but that’s another story. Thailand in the 1960s was definitely a happenin’ place.

David Almquist <dacom2000@gmail.com>


Wed, Sep 28, 2022, 12:07 PM


to Lauren, Greg, David, David, Anthony, lisa, Susan, Vicky, Judy, katemabin11, Lewis, Roy, me, Sydney, Guy, jo

Hi All

Hope you are all well.

While in rehab for fractured vertebrae, I couldn’t read and had no access to my computer, so I watched a LOT of TV via a limited number of channels. Mostly it was cop show after cop show, like Chicago P.D., Law & Order, etc.

Fortunately, I learned a lot that is useful, and I wanted to pass it on to you folks.  

For instance:

    To me, this doesn’t sound like all that promising a set up to begin with.   

    Anyway, what happens is your mic connection to the police fails, and you end up suspended by your feet from the ceiling while     the number one bad guy exercises great care in selecting which baseball bat to whack you with.  

    In the car, the cops are sipping their lattes and notice the mic isn’t working. “We should go in,” says one. To which the other inevitably replies, “No, l let’s wait. Give him time.”

    Meanwhile you are swinging back and forth, yelling, “Look, I’m Montezuma not a snitch. I swear I’m not Montezuma working with the cops.”

    My advice: do the time.

3. Never trust a girl named Amber. She is either involved in some criminal scheme or stealing your stuff to fund a dope habit or generally facilitating unpleasantness. This is just a fact.

Finally, after watching four and a half million cop episodes, I still can’t decide which is more boring, car chases or foot chases. The good thing about foot chases is they tend to be shorter. You can probably thank the actor’s union for that.

On the creative side, I’ve come up with a new superhero: Fly-man. He doesn’t have any special powers. He just annoys the hell out of people.

This month I issued my annual call for world peace. Once again it failed to get the press coverage I had hoped for. I also felt the brief notice that did appear in a local suburban paper was not written in a manner befitting the gravity of the subject matter.  

My trip to a Pain Management Clinic didn’t go as I expected. First off, though situated in a medical campus, it had its own building with a guy standing outside the front door. I gave him my name, he called someone on his phone, we waited a bit, and then he opened the door and sent me in.

I entered a medium-sized lobby with a reception desk at the far end. While I was walking toward it, a door opened in the wall to my left, and a guy came running out with a two by four and belted me in the back of my knees. As I went down howling in pain, he barked, “Suck it up!” and disappeared through another door to my right.

When I finally got to my feet, I limped up to the reception desk, where a woman was busy typing on a PC. She pushed forward a clip board with forms on it and said, “Fill that out.” As I was writing with my right hand and had my left hand lying flat on the desk, she picked up a book the size of a dictionary, slammed it down on my left hand, and yelled, “Deal with it!”

By now I was getting a line on their preferred treatment modality, so when I was ushered into a waiting room and directed toward a chair, I looked carefully first and saw a half dozen tacks upturned on the seat. I swept them off before sitting down.

There was more, but you get the picture. It’s really important to check out these places before you visit.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a critical piece of advice, the most fundamental advice I have passed on to my daughter and that, hopefully, she has adhered to:

Don’t do anything dippy.

Love,
David

David fhas been a follower of Avatar Adi Da Samraj for many years.  Click here for a video of his teachings. (WARNING: this will take you out of my website).