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    United States Socialist Republic book by HG Goerner

    Coming To America – An American’s Perspective Part 2

    By Kathleen Roos, PhD.

    This is the follow-on segment (second installment) to Dr. Kathleen Roos’ story. The first segment was posted in Citizen’s Journal on February 6th 2022.

    In Junior High School my mom bought me a Remington typewriter for my birthday. So, I started a club: The Interested Club, with a couple of my friends and we were, well, interested in the world. I was voted President and Secretary as I had the typewriter. Two others were Vice President and a member. There was no treasurer as we had no money. I began preparing letters to different Countries asking about life and what was so special about their country. How I found all these various addresses I am not sure but I did. After mailing out numerous letters to countries we were curious about due to either history or geography class, I started receiving boxes of information from the USSR, the only country that we heard back from. Our Club lasted through the summer months while we were out of school then it was back to school and we disbanded though I continued to receive books and pamphlets from the Soviet Union. I was amazed.

    In grade school we were provided hard cover text books for the courses we would be taking. We treated those hardcover books like gold. They were handed down from one class to the next and you protected your book by making book covers out of brown paper grocery bags. Many, like me really worked hard to protect these books somehow realizing that they were valuable. This must have been passed down from mom as she taught me how to break a book’s binding (the spin so the book did not lose its pages) and other such memorable book loving details. I say this because I was in awe of the hard cover, full glossy paper and photographic quality of these texts sent by the Soviet Union. The books were gorgeous and all brand new. None were multiple copies of the same book, but each a different book on how great life is in the USSR. From farming, land availability, food production, to military might, to the commitments of all to work to create the food basket of the world. The pamphlets were just as beautifully done as the books. I recall hearing about Pravda, the famous Communist newspaper and propaganda machine. This was that machine in action in a new vein, getting to school kids.

    I never responded to anything and stopped receiving any more correspondence which was probably a good thing. I started getting a bit worried. Later on, I discarded all this information thinking that it could come back to haunt me. But it was my first taste of the reality of propaganda and how the Soviet Union wanted to portray itself to the world. I was about 12.

    Photos of bus taking choir to airport and Dr. Dox (below) meeting with hosts throughout Europe. 1970
    Photos of bus taking choir to airport and Dr. Dox (below) meeting with hosts throughout Europe. 1970



      In 1970, I was extremely fortunate to be selected for my college choir, the Hartwick College Choir to tour Europe under the Direction of Dr. Thurston Dox. We toured five countries in a month plus performing primarily in churches, cathedrals and in other venues. What is absolutely amazing about this time is that the Berlin Wall still stood and we performed in East and West Germany and even in a very old church in East Berlin. Our hotel was almost right up against the Berlin Wall. We could look out our window and see the top of the wall, the razor wire and the gun turrets. I was horsing around like any freshman college student told my class mates I would jump across over to the wall, and walk on it, it was so close. I made like I was going to do just that. I am quite sure I would not have done this. But friends grabbed me and pointed to the armed soldiers in the turrets all with machine guns pointed in my direction. They had taken notice. ‘Surely, you’re joking Mr. Feynman’. No, they were not joking and it was a scary, eye-opening experience for me not to be a crazy-ass kid.

                Traveling by bus from West Germany into East Germany was memorable. It was like going from civilization into a ghostly world. It was snowing and cold. West Germany looked developed and pleasant, East Germany was other worldly: bleak and dark. No trees grew and the ones that did exist were black. It was like they all had died and never came back.


    Photos of West Germany to left and east Germany and part of Berlin Wall 1970

    The dreariness was disconcerting to all. When you have a bunch of teenagers go dead silent, you know they are taking something in. Obviously, we had East Germans escorting us that did not appreciate a gaggle of teenagers and treated us rather brusquely. We were provided bagged lunches and were told we could not eat on the bus. We had to get off and eat on the ground outside. There was nothing there: no park benches, no city, no streets, no lights, just dead black trees and snow almost out of the Grimmes Fairey tale and the story of Vasilisa. It was cold and we ate in a wet snow. We either sat on the frozen ground or stood trying to eat. The ‘Coke’ they provided tasted like pepper. When we returned to the bus, the driver scolded us to not touch the seats with our hands or we would be put off the bus!

                Finally, we arrived at the ancient little church where we were to perform. It was depressing. It was frigid out and just as cold inside the church. The church was beautiful and very, very old. We had to rehearse as soon as we arrived and perform later that evening. It was a grueling schedule. We figured no one would attend this performance. For one thing we are college age Americans, and who wants to sit in an ice-cold church and listen to these college kids for a couple hours?

    The church was packed with East Berliners and all were very silent. We did not feel any warmth from these people at all. But we were a very good choir with some unbelievable talent and a great conductor. When we finished singing and pouring our hearts out with this beautiful church music, much of it in Latin, we met deathly silence. All was still until this tiny, stern looking elderly woman in a babushka stood. I thought she was going to walk out. We all did. Then she started a very slow, loud clap, one, two, three and then the entire church stood and clapped with more and more speed and energy. It brought tears to my eyes as it does now just to tell this story. I don’t think these people ever clapped in this church before. It is not custom. I saw her smile. I look back at this wonderful, fulfilling and enlightening experience. These East Berliners would not stop their applause. The energy did not subside. The goodness and the strength of the people shown through the bleakness of their environment and being separated from the rest of Germany due to Communism. They held our hands and just smiled at us, shaking our hands with so much love it was unbelievable. It took years before that wall came down but it did on November 9, 1989 and I can say I met the people on the other side who did not deserve the life they suffered under that regime. (It was the St. Nicholas Church built between 1220 and 1230 replacing the 520 AD Christian Church where St. Nicholas served as a bishop. St. Nicholas church became famous again in 1989 with Monday demonstrations and the peaceful revolt against communist rule).

    In 1984 again I was fortunate to be selected out of a group of 8 scientists across the U.S to work for the Royal Government of Thailand as an environmental advisor. Thailand was run by a Monarch and still is but also has a Parliament. The Thai are a wonderful, friendly and beautiful people as mentioned by a previous interviewee, Dr. Leroy Carson in this writeup. The Thai really liked Americans. My contract, once I saw it in Thailand, read like I was an American super hero who would single handedly address and heal all Thailand’s environmental woes. Well, that was not the case but I achieved a lot and met some wonderful people that to this day wish I had maintained our friendships. It is like ok back to work and I let that go. A regret.

    Though I remember Thailand as an experience of a lifetime it did have its challenges. For one thing the selection process took almost a year and there was a long time I did not think it would happen. It was also difficult to know what decisions I should make concerning my excising job and career. On my way to Thailand, I had no signed contract in hand, I was not part of a U.S. group sponsored by U.S. AID or anything similar and I would be working directly for the Thai government and paid in Baht! I did not know much of this prior to getting there. Talk about a wing and a prayer. But I wanted the adventure. Many friends and colleagues told me not to go. One counselor said to me the Asians do not respect woman as professionals and you will not be respected. She also told me I would not be selected for the same reasons. Another friend that I really trusted said I should never go without a signed contract. Well, I went. Something was just in my heart to explore and trust.

    Having to go through China to get there was eventful. The 1980s a time of cameras, film and no cell phones. Film was a big deal especially while traveling as your film could easily be damaged by security X-rays at the airports and China was known to use very powerful X-ray technology. I was told to protect my film and with a yearlong endeavor like this I had a lot of film. While passing through security I was asked many questions and I was the only ‘white’ person on this flight of hundreds. I could not understand the heavy Chinese accent and was a bit intimidated. “Yes, I had film”. I was immediately surrounded with security and escorted away from the other passengers and put in a small room. Now I am terrified. They were questioning me, searching me. Thankfully a KLM agent was notified as to what was happening and two of them came after me. They translated and I admitted that I had film. There was much back and forth, then laughter. They had asked me if I had firearms, not film! I was escorted back to the plane by the KLM crew and boarded my flight, a bit shaken and a bit embarrassed as who could I possibly explain this to; film, not firearms. They don’t use ‘r’s too well.

    Arriving in Bangkok I was just happy to be somewhere that I might feel a bit safe. It was a grueling trip. I was met by my boss and colleagues; Dr. Jarapong, Sukanya, Cattleya and Anat. A wonderful smiling group, well maybe except Dr. Jarupong. This is all for another story but suffice it to say all those details that were never documented back while in the states came through loud and clear and me with only a one-way ticket paid by the Thai government. There was no getting on a plane and heading back home.

    First thing was to get me medically examined. I had taken numerous inoculations (vaccines) prior to coming. All the required medical procedures I thought were done. But since I was a ‘forang’ (Thai term for foreigners) working for the Thai, I would have to be medically examined by the Thai for their contract. The exam was extremely intrusive and invasive. I do not recall a medical exam taken in the U.S. that was this “detailed”. Were they looking for drugs in cavities? That must have been part of it. I was horrified but survived. They attempted to sooth me afterward but it wasn’t working. I was humiliated and angry.

    When I developed typhoid in Thailand and eventually had to experience their medical hospitality again, it was very different. Though I did have an American doctor, all others were Thai. When I came to, I thought they was angels, as I truly thought I might die. I survived the disease, was cleared and went on to complete my work after losing almost 20 pounds in two weeks. My disuse that disabled me for quiet a time in Thailand resulted from a rather humorous incident. I was a runner and wanted to continue to do that while working in Thailand. The Thai were not accustomed to women running in shorts (not polite), and it is very hot and humid during the day so I ran around 5 am. Obviously visibility was bad as were the roads. I ran at Kasetsart University that was close to where I was living so could run there and feel a bit safe and away from traffic.

    Thailand is very wet and humid especially in southern Thailand. Many klongs or canals run through most areas and many are seriously contaminated with sewage. I would run with my huge gate key in my hand from the compound where I stayed. I decided to run a grassy route one morning and as I ran across this seemingly solid grass area, I dropped straight down into a klong. It was beyond shocking and as I swam to get to the surface, I lost my gate key. My mouth had opened as I laughed and I am sure I took in some of that now knowing sewage water.

    I was covered with mud and Lilly pads and must have been a sight. It was getting light and people were coming onto campus and now I could be seen. I ran back to my secure compound with looks and stares like I was out of a monster movie. I knew getting in was going to be a problem. The Thai family I stayed with, who were wonderful, had about 13 dogs for guarding. I ran the bell and all hell broke loose with the dogs. One of the maids finally came to the gate and didn’t recognize me though all the mud and algae. I tried to explain but she did not understand English and I was a shocking sight especially for the Thai. When I finally did get to explain, laughter was abundant. Losing the key was however not good. I got deathly sick within a week of that event.

    The Thai are very leery of the North Vietnamese and there were still battles going on along the border. When we traveled near the border you could occasionally hear arms firing. I traveled throughout Thailand for my job and there were Communist insurgents hold up in several locations especially in the boot area headed down to Phuket and in the Northern Triangle with Cambodia and Laos, as well as along the eastern border where Vanchatt and his family escaped from Cambodia (see Chapter 1) where we could hear shots being fired.

    My Thai team conduction mining inspections: Thailand 1984
    My Thai team conduction mining inspections: Thailand 1984

    Some of these travels were disconcerting. One trip we were traveling south through Thailand to visit some oil and mining companies and farmers using a variety of pesticides, possibly unsafe formulations, incorrect usage guidance or no protective equipment.  I was warned there were communist insurgents in this area and to be careful. I believe that is why our driver was doing about 100 miles per hour on very bad roads. The drive was absolutely terrifying. There appeared to be no rules of the road in Thailand.

    I was hunkered down in the back seat pleading that he slow down and being very polite so he would not ‘lose face’! No way! My safety was his concern I was told. Not if I am dead. Then the shots rang out. Our windshield was shattered. I was pushed down onto the floor. (You’ll hear this song again). And he sped up! With no windshield mind you. We were now being pelted by flying debris and rocks.

    Putting many miles behind us and the mountain range we made it to safe territory. No cell phones, no pay phones, no radios, no nothing in the country. No way to call for help so no need to ask why we didn’t. The Thai would say ‘Mia pen rai’ and just laugh! (No big deal, never mind or no problem). I can personally tell you that living in many countries where Communists want to take hold, they make life miserable for those trying to just get by. I was told I had to take the train back by myself as my entourage would return in the damaged car.

    Left: Me and Anat, member of my environmental team, with my driver who kept me safe in many precarious situations.
    Left: Me and Anat, member of my environmental team, with my driver who kept me safe in many precarious situations.

    I am not sure why that decision was made but just so much you should question when you are a guest in another Country and don’t want them or you to ‘loose face’. I needed the translators and they became good friends. (Another reason why what recently happened in Afghanistan sickens me. I was dependent on my Thai translators and Iraqi contractors in Iraq years later)

    Taking the train from Phuket to Bangkok was another event of a life time. I felt like I was on the Orient Express. It was truly exciting and a bit scary. And Phuket is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It will never be as I remember it as there was only a single hotel under construction where I stayed on the water at this time. Nothing else. All the rest was untouched beach. It was out of the James Bond movie Moonraker.

    My trip to Burma and back while in Thailand was another learning experience in my life. Then on a trip to the north, another world from southern Thailand to visit ranches, a pig farm and orchards of the Northern Triangle (to convince the locals it was better to grow peaches than opium! Yeh, that went over with many giggles). My Thai friends decide we should take a side trip into Burma (now Myanmar). Burma is a hot place having borders with China, Laos, and Thailand, Bangladesh, Rangoon (now Yangon) and India for terrorism, drug and human trafficking as well as rebel groups. Burma itself has over 100 ethnic groups. I was informed by U.S. AID (Agency for International Development) partially responsible for my contract with the Thai government, to not ever leave Thailand, especially into Burma. “You go there you may not be heard from again and there is nothing the U.S. government can do for you”.

    (The Burma Communist Party is the oldest existing political party in Myanmar. It was founded in 1939. The Union Revolutionary Council established Burma as a one-party socialist state under BSPP and adopted the Burmese Way to Socialism in 1962 to increase economic development and decrease foreign influence in Burma to zero percent and increase their melty. Burma then ran as an independent republic until 2008. On Feb 1, 2021 Myanmar’s military took over in a military coupe. Protest have been going on since 24 Feb 2021.)

    Northern Hilltribes people of Thailand. Children often born to very young girls.
    Northern Hilltribes people of Thailand. Children often born to very young girls.

    My Thai colleagues say “no problem (Mei pen rai). We go from Chang Rai into Burma all the time”. Well yes but you are not an American and I had been told the Burmese hate Americans. “No, no they like us, they like you”. So, with great hesitancy I walk across the northern Thai border with Sukanya, Cattleya and Anat, my environmental team into Communist Burma. Again, it was like walking into another world.

    From the Thai border with the single white bar across the road, like you see in many developing countries, we go from no people around on the smiling Thai side to unsmiling Burmese sitting on the ground along both sides of the road. It was eerie, as they were all just sitting cross legged or deep knee crouch (Asian style) with blackened teeth, smoking and chewing and passing some sort of Cha Cao back and forth.

    Their teeth were black and the look was either just intolerant or hate. I got a very bad vibe right away. Once they noticed me, they started waving their hands at me and becoming more aggressive. When some started standing up, I knew we were in trouble. Anat was gently speaking to them. I had experienced the time with Anat becoming a Monk while in Thailand. He is very gentle.

    I am not sure he spoke their language but they were communicating. They told him that they could come across but they shoved their arms pointing at me but not with me. I had to go back across the border. So, we turned tail and not too soon from my perspective. My friends were very apologetic. Thai are not rude and they considered this very rude behavior (rude? I could be dead and they are talking how rude! Just love the Thai for understatement). I was just glad to be back on the Thai side. When I relayed this information back at the USAID office, I was giving an ear full and that is when I got that lecture about disappearing and never being found again. Another lesson learned and when I learned about human trafficking that we heard little to nothing about during those years.

    From Thailand I was allowed to take a little time off, but not enough to

    Interviews with farmers on pesticide use. Left: Anat training to become a monk with me and Cattleya. Ritual for all young Thai men. 1984
    Interviews with farmers on pesticide use. Left: Anat training to become a monk with me and Cattleya. Ritual for all young Thai men. 1984

    get back to the States. So, my USAID friends recommended I go to Nepal. I really wanted to go there after all my AID colleagues had told me about Nepal, its breathtaking scenery and its people. I also wanted to get into Tibet and purchase a Tibetan carpet, a long-time desire. This was the time when it was forbidden to enter Tibet. The monks still maintained their faith and place of the Dalia Lama’s once winter home

    Potala Palace in Lhasa. Tibet known as the “Roof Top of the World” (and it is) has been part of China for around 800 years. In Tibet today there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, or press. The Dalai Lama fled in 1959 to India and lives among 100,000 other Tibetan refugees in government exile and will probably never see Tibet again. The Chinese killed over 1.2 million Tibetans according to the 14th Dalai Lama.

    Trekking in Nepal with my 13-year-old Sherpa. 1984
    Trekking in Nepal with my 13-year-old Sherpa. 1984

    In 1955 Nepal restored diplomatic relations with China (PRC) and in a treaty signed in 1956 Nepal recognized Tibet as part of China. While I was in Nepal, Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom under King Birendi made Nepal a constitutional monarchy, and was a member of the Shah dynasty.  The dynasty was ended in 2008 after 240-year-old monarchy. Today Nepal is a federal democratic republic with a constitution. It has a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister who heads the government. The prime minister is chief executive of a 601-member assembly responsible for drafting a new constitution in 2020. While trekking in Nepal with my young 14-year-old Sherpa, I experienced much more of what life was like in developing countries. Thailand was much more ‘advanced’ in construction and daily ways but the Nepalese were tough yet friendly. The women did not like seeing a woman wearing pants as I had on hiking pants. Several of them grabbed my breast to ensure I was a woman. Disconcerting to say the least. My Sherpa took me to his home which was a mud hut along the trail from Pokhara to the base camp heading to Everest. The hut was made of water buffalo dung and sand similar to ones I saw later in Africa. However, these huts were smooth and rounded and not like the brick ones of Africa in Botswana. What they needed was money to survive. This is 1984 and things have changed drastically in Nepal. The trail and mud huts I saw have been replaced with high rises and businesses. The horrific 2015, 8.1M earthquake destroyed much of this construction as codes are not exactly followed in places like Nepal. Most significantly the earthquake killed some 9,000 people and injured 22,000. Horrific numbers of loss.


    A magnificent recollection from the Nepali and Tibetan border was relayed to me by my US AID friend. He said he was on the steppes looking off at the Himalayas when a single horseman appeared and came charging at him at full bore. He stood terrified as the horseman did not stop nor seemed to be holding any reins on the horse and just kept charging. He was holding something in his ams. He was turbaned, scarfed across the face and magnificent as he sat upright, tall and bareback! In his arms was an infant. He had wanted to show off his infant to the forang. He said it was a picture ingrained in his mind forever. They story was ingrained in me. They smiled at one another and for a Tibetan horseman to smile is rare.

    As we continued on our trek alone, I kept asking my young sherpa friend ‘are those mountains in the distance the Himalayas’? He kept shaking his head no but I thought they must be. They were grand but looked a lot like the Rockies or parts of the Alps to me. Finally, as we moved along, the clouds moved off and this awe dropping sight took my breath away, literally! There were these towering, gigantic 6-mile-high mountains that overshadowed what I thought were the awesome Rockies. The Himalayas lay before me and I can never forget that sight. It is difficult to describe. As soon as they appeared they were quickly swallowed by clouds.

    My young Sherpa friend knew nothing about the government but did know about the trail to Everest and just how far I could go without a permit. He just left me when we got to the part of the road that required me to have a permit. I knew nothing about having a permit. I was then on my own in a place that one really needs a guide not only for the trekking but for the communication even to get food or sleep. I ended up sleeping in a cave with a bat and eating Dahl Bat with my left hand with chickens feeding off my metal plate.

    The story continues next week with part 3.

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