Missing Panama

Suspicious luggage at SEATAC
Suspicious luggage at SEATAC

OK, the Pacific Northwest IS beautiful, especially at this time of year with all the flowering shrubs and trees.  But it is also cold . . . 70 degrees with intermittent splashes of sun is as good as it gets.  And it is wet . . . drizzly wet, like it can’t make up its mind to rain or not to rain.  On the whole the average yearly rainfall in Seattle is 36.2 inches compared to Boquete which may get as much as 200 inches a year.  It’s just that in Seattle that measly 32 inches seems to be spread out over 365 cloudy days.

Speaking of sun, or lack thereof, I find out my 6-month-old grandson is taking doctor prescribed doses of Vitamin D due to the lack of sunlight in Seattle and indeed my daughter’s entire family and most folks in Seattle have to take Vitamin D to make up for the sun deficiency!

Homeland Security alert!
Homeland Security alert!

Maybe I’m just homesick for the genuine rainforests of Panama.  Last night we had dinner in a plastic Rainforest Cafe.  Cute and my 5-year-old grandson loved it.  Great tropical fish aquariums.  “Panama Punch” [$12, but you get to keep the glass.] wasn’t bad and packed a lot of punch.  Food was pretty good.  Ambiance LOUD and LOUDER which is just what the doctor ordered for a 5-year-old.  Wait staff kept walking past our table screaming “Volcano!  Volcano!” a choclate $15 desert with a sparkler on top spewing out sulfur like fumes which is just what you want along with your food.  $115 for four adults and a kid,m reminding me of another thing I like about Panama, the cost of living.

There are things that I like being back in the US:

A sunny moment in Seattle - look quick!
A sunny moment in Seattle – look quick!
  • Predictability – well, more or less.  The more being that the major highways are well-marked and designed and predictable.  Drivers are predictable.  Even the Rainforest Cafe is predictable.  The familiar stores are there and will have what it is that you are looking for.  But predictability can be boring.  Of course there are things that aren’t predictable, like coming home from a weekend vacation, finding the house flooded and spending the week at what my grandson was calling our “Hilton Home”.
  • Comfort Zone – There is a certain comfort zone created by the familiarity of the society in which you grew up, worked and lived all of your life. You know where to go for what, even in a strange city, and you know more or less how things work. There is a Starbucks every 500 feet and Starbucks and Mc Donald’s and wherever you want a quick breakfast or just a shot of caffeine are open when you want them 6am, 7am, whatever, and don’t wait until 8am on 10am to open for business. Need I mention Home Depot and IKEA?  You will have water, electric and gas except on weird, dramatic, crisis situations.  You can actually use an electric digital clock and not spend half of your time resetting it.
  • Education – OK, education isn’t perfect in the US, nothing is, but it is a whole lot better than in Panama where public education, IMHO, sucks. I wish Panama would start spending half of what it is spending on roads and infrastructure (great as that is!) on education. The focus of public education in Panama seems to be on uniforms, trying to march in some kind of cohesive form in parades, and having a signature that is art-form, trade mark perfect. Insanity seems to rule in education. Take for example the little grade school in the Embera village. Children who wander around all day barefoot, maybe in a tiny wrap around something or another, but mostly naked, must dress up in a school uniform (approved shoes, socks, dress or pants, white or uniformly colored shirt embroidered with the school name) before they can walk up the hill to the school grounds and go inside. The teacher sent by the government obviously knows this is nuts, but has to comply. Grade school children are now required to learn English. Good move: like it or not English is the international language of trade, commerce, business and shipping. So the teachers, who themselves don’t know or speak English, are required to teach English and there is no money to provide the teachers with any training. Make sense? “Welcome to Panama!”
  • Medical Care – Yes, I have spoken positively about the medical care in Panama and particularly the more or less affordable cost of medical care, BUT . . . I am glad my wife’s current cardiac situation happened in the US and not in Panama. Yes, she happens, thankfully, to have just gotten an excellent Medicaid supplemental insurance program using Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle which has one of the top-rated cardiology departments in the country. And I’m sorry, but there really is no comparison. She’s had stents installed in Panama City and everything was fine with an excellent cardiologist and very affordable but the level of training, the equipment, the collegiality of a team of specialists, with a team of allergy specialists one floor down, etc.,at Virginia Mason at least is unbeatable. Without insurance this would have been impossible. Were we back in Chiriqui relying on our MS Chiriqui insurance which allows one test a month (assuming these tests were available in Chiriqui or even in Panama City), given the number of specialized tests they’ve done on Nikki, she would have been long gone before she could have received them in Panama with MS Chiriqui’s one-test-per-month rule.
  • Friendliness, civility and customer service – Sure, Washington and Seattle folks are going to be more friendly and civil than folks in many parts of the US. People even drive politely in Washington! Folks here are just nice period. Customer service, a concept almost totally lacking in Panama, is expected in the US. [So when my kids were dealing with Hilton Reservations, naturally they were put off when forced to deal with a call center in India. No disrespect here to my many Indian readers and friends since it is more a problem of Hilton Reservations and required scripts than people.]

There are things I don’t like about being back in the US:

There are the obvious things I dislike like congestion and traffic jams, which are a function of urban life and are the same, if not worse, in Panama if you are talking Panama City. But I’m talking the “country”, Chiriqui, and Boquete in particular.

  • Lack of fresh air – Sure the air is fresh in Washington, but the windows and doors are closed. The heat actually comes on! In Boquete our house is designed to be open with lots of fresh air – OK, a few bugs as well – and no heat or air conditioning.
  • Cold rain – We get much more rain in Boquete, but a lot more sunshine, and our rain is warm enough to take a shower outside in the rain. I’ve done it, except in my case it was a necessity since we didn’t have water and just about the time I was all soaped up . . . the rain stopped.
  • Predictability and familiarity – There are two sides to this coin. While I find the predictability and familiarity of life in the US to be comfortable and desirable, on the other hand it is also boring. I miss the unpredictability of life in Panama and the adventure of exploring new territory and experiences. Granted there are plenty of new experiences and new territory to be explored in the US, but you generally have to seek them out whereas in Panama they seem to be dumped in your path.
  • High cost of everything! – Sure there has been a lot of inflation in Panama since we moved here 8 years ago. This is due to Panama enjoying an exploding economy plus the shrinking value of the US dollar and the soaring cost of oil . . . BUT . . . nothing like the US! A trip to Starbucks for coffee for two people will easily set you back $12! Fast food drive-through junk food, easily $10 for one. So although the total cost of living has increased in Panama, I reckon it is still 30% less for us in Boquete than it would be in Southern California or Seattle. The catch for retirees is of course a fixed income is fixed wherever you live.
  • National attitude – It’s hard to put your finger on this exactly. Some countries, like Panama, which have booming and growing economies have an optomistic outlook on their future. Other countries, like Greece and the US, have a generally pessimistic attitude. Panama is building: the US often seems to be struggling to maintain.
    Zombie convention at the Hilton on Memorial Day - Quote role-playing soldiier: "We're here to show support for the Zombie convention.  Yes, I was in the US Army.  We usually do WW II re-enactments."  Guess I've always thought there were enough real wars going on.
    Zombie convention at the Hilton on Memorial Day – Quote role-playing soldier: “We’re here to show support for the Zombie convention. Yes, I was in the US Army. We usually do WW II re-enactments.” Guess I’ve always thought there were enough real wars going on.

    Politically some countries with more political parties than you can count have folks pushing in numerous opposing directions which can lead to a lively political discussion and the only way to govern is to work out a compromise. The US with only two parties seems to be neatly divided in two camps headed in opposite directions with no discussion and no attempt to compromise. The US has lived with a war mentality so long – “War on Drugs!” “War on Terror!” “War on Obama!” – that there is a built-in national fear factor. I’ve often felt this when I come back to the US and go through immigration and customs. [I have to say, this time, coming into Atlanta it was refreshingly different. Maybe because we arrived mid-day, but no line and when the immigration guy discovered I lived in Panama – “That’s cool!” – no attitude. But we are always looking for a terrorist beneath every rock. When Janet Napolitano raced off to Oklahoma was she just looking for press exposure or did she really think the tornadoes were an act of terrorism?   I think Obama is right to get us off the “war” kick which obviously is very profitable for a lot of already rich folks, and have us start focusing on living carefully and responsibly in today’s world, which obviously is quite different from what it was 15 years ago.

  • The high-tech world – Nikki and I often feel like Mr. and Mrs. Rip Van Winkle since we are so out of touch with the high-tech world which seems to dominate life in the US.  I think I was the only person on the plane that landed at SEATAC who wasn’t on my iPhone checking messages while waiting to deplane.  My 5-year-old grandson deftly manages 6 remote controls to set up Wii so he can race his big truck through hundreds of obstacles.  My kids record their favorite shows automatically so they can watch at their leisure without commercials.  The new thermostat can be adjusted from their cars as they commute home while chatting hands free on their iPhones.  And my son’s new Ford Flex automatically found a parking space big enough for his car and then automatically parallel parked us into a tiny space.  “Look man, no hands!”

The last night we were in the Hilton Hotel they also hosted a giant Zombie convention of adults . . .  well, they looked like adults . . . dressed in zombie costumes.  The costumes looked like they came from an explosion in a dumpster, but judging from the movie-quality make up, they weren’t cheap.  Interesting folk.  To quote a guy my grandson was staring at in the hotel hallway – understand this guy was in tattered clothing with movie make up that made his head look like it had just come out of a meat grinder, a’la autopsy table CSI, “Sorry, I don’t want to scare anyone.”

“Dude!  You paid a fortune to look like you came out of a meat grinder!  And another fortune to attend this convention!  Get real!”

He was headed to the elevator past the bulky doorman, not in costume, to enter the special “Adults Only – Over 21” Zombie room.  God only knows!

Rian checks out a Zombie hearse.  Guy assured us the black bag was a "real body bag."  Whatever floats your boat.
Rian checks out a Zombie hearse. Guy assured us the black bag was a “real body bag.” Whatever floats your boat.

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