Remembering Yellow Cave can help us survive a pandemic


2 September 2020

Lotus Blossom in a pot, Bangkok, 2019

Louis Katz finds courage in the memory of Wild Boar Soccer Team rescue and the spirit of the world ceramic community.

I remember only a few times of my life when it seemed like the world, or at least most of it was united. I am certain that the perception was almost always overblown. It is still significant.

Thinking back, the time of world unity that comes clearest to mind is the most recent, the rescue of The Wild Boar Soccer Team from Yellow Cave. The second was the first landing on the moon. There was unity, at least for the most part, immediately after 9/11, and certainly after the South East Asian Tsunami. The Japanese Tsunami started out with a broad-based concern, but it soon seems fractured over the politics of nuclear power. Unfortunately, despite some broad-based empathy, I did not feel like we, all of us, were unified.

Today, the Yellow Cave rescue showed up in my news feed. For a while after the rescue I watched videos about the event and the people involved, but after a month or two I stopped watching. Today I watched a video of the children’s tour in England, the presentation of awards to divers by the Australian Government and a few other videos that I had missed before, including TV talk show interviews with the Wild Boar soccer team and the divers.

In one of the videos, there was a comment thanking the divers for helping the children. A Thai commented that they helped all the Thai people. I started to type that they helped the world. The unity in time of disasters has the ability to show us what might be possible.

Thailand could be called my second home. People there have been so nice to me, welcoming. The Thai word for this sort of welcome is transliterated nam jai meaning “fluid of the heart”. It has been great to see how the community of Thais pulled themselves together and rid their country of COVID-19. While the government certainly helped, it was an effort of the people and trust in their medical professionals.

The Thais are individuals, their name, Thai, means “free”. But for them, freedom is both individual and national. They have a sense of self and of community. In the US, we are losing this communal self.

On average I spend about three weeks in Thailand every year. This has been going on for the last thirty-two years. I first went to gather documentation of traditional Thai pottery. I have a paragraph on the village I stay in, Dankwean, in a Garland piece called, “My Village Makes”.

I am fortunate to belong to a few worldwide communities. One of these that I think is under-rated is the community of people involved with and interested in clay. This group is not just makers of art, or pots, but also toilets, bricks, gallery owners, critics, writers, and collectors. I coined a word for this greater clay group, “Clayers”. For the most part, clayers share and help. We pick each other up when we get knocked down. We share clay and glaze recipes, and have help groups, fundraisers, organizations, great parties, and … the pot lucks. In general clayers are great cooks. We are worldwide. There are other groups like this, printmakers, and amateur radio operators come to mind. There are people in these groups that sell their technical help, but in general, even these people entice you into buying paid help with samples of free help. People have to be able to make a living.

This is 2020 and the COVID-19 virus has pushed another sharing group to the forefront, biological scientists. I am not a member of this group. I really do not know the extent of their normal sharing, and I do not even know if they are sharing as much as we would like. I do know that data is being exchanged and shared without cost, that help is being given to rivals, and that this sharing is greatly speeding research working towards solutions.

It is wonderful to see this happen. It is hopeful to watch. The first sharing really was notification of the disease’s existence to the WHO by the Chinese government. And then the sharing of the genome by China. I learned about this January 11, 2020. Newspapers have been sharing articles outside of their paywall. Journals have been doing the same. Massive open source platforms have been being used but it sounds like the big one is GISAID. “The GISAID Initiative promotes the rapid sharing of data from all influenza viruses and the coronavirus causing COVID-19.” They are particularly focused on genomic information. You can learn about it here.

One of the reasons for sharing is empathy. Another is simple pragmatism. We are stronger working together than working apart. I wish that the planet could join together to attack the virus on other fronts. A worldwide effort is needed.

After the people of Thailand and the world managed to rescue the Wild Boar Soccer Team, really I knew better, but I hoped that it would bring the world to closer cooperation on complex problems. If the pandemic can do this, it would be good.

If you are interested in the fluid of the heart, naam jai, I have an essay here.

If you would like more information on Thai or Dankwian Traditional Pottery there are three of my videos here:

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