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"The most memorable moments I have experienced are those when someone tells me they have learned something valuable from what I have said, written or done."
"My name is Jim Goodman, but people call me Akha Jim. I was born on 14 October 1947 in Washington D.C. Because of my father's work, I spent most of my childhood in Maryland and Ohio. After finishing one semester at university, I went to western Europe for a while, and when I returned, I enrolled in the army. I was discharged in January 1972, after serving in Germany, Columbus, Georgia and South Korea.
"After several months in San Francisco, I left the United States with a one-way ticket back to South Korea, where I taught conversational English. At the end of 1976, I left Korea to see other parts of Asia and soon turned up in Katmandu, Nepal, where I lived for 11 years. At the end of 1987, I moved to Thailand and within a few months decided to make Chiang Mai my home. I help Akha people to promote their handicrafts, and I make regular research runs for book projects in Yunnan, China, and northern Vietnam.
"For the past couple of decades or more, I have made writing and photography my primary occupation. I have had innate interest in writing since my childhood. Photography I took up seriously in Nepal in order to record things I witnessed, and use the photos to help my research. Now I use photography to illustrate my written work as well. My focus has been the ethnic minority cultures in my region. My work with the Akha hill tribe in Thailand has helped me approach others in this region.
"In Nepal I wrote many articles for the regional media, as well as a guide on Katmandu for Times Editions, Singapore. I have also written and published books and guides on different aspects of life and cultural traditions in Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam. My important works are on topics I chose myself, mainly due to a lack of existing information on the subject, including the Akha, the Naxi of Lijiang, the Yi, and the Vietnamese peoples, as well as an exploration of Yunnan.
"Thai culture is very tolerant, compassionate and easy going. Living in Thailand for more than 18 years has influenced the way I lead my life. My own perception of life is to try to pursue it by maximizing my appreciation of life, and by concentrating on those aspects for which, consciously and unconsciously, I have become best prepared.
"I believe that what I am doing contributes something useful to the sum of human knowledge. Thanks to my background and the skills I was born with, as well as the skills I have developed while in Asia, I am uniquely qualified to carry out such a task.
"I taught myself photography through books, the advice of others, and trial-and-error. I am not a college graduate, never finished schooling, but never stopped my education. I read voraciously everything even remotely related to my current project, and I make many trips to an area of research to develop a broader perspective on the local customs, celebrations, traditions, etc.
"My work gives me the conviction that I am playing a useful and beneficial role while I'm here on this earth. It was not easy to go through the long apprenticeship necessary to succeed in my chosen occupation. My most critical challenges were to keep faith in my own vision of myself, no matter how long it took, to maintain good health to be able to put up with the physical hardships in the apprenticeship years, and to carry out my mission in sometimes difficult terrain.
"The most memorable moments I have experienced are those when someone tells me they have learned something valuable from what I have said, written or done. Also, when I have an especially good rapport with people I never met before, when I ride rope-bridges in Nujiang (western Yunnan), when Vietnamese people tell me how much they appreciate my interest in them and their culture, and when I make genuine friendships in so many countries.
"My father was a history teacher. My mother was an opera singer, who later became a music teacher. From my father I inherited my interest in history, the world at large and probably my writing ability. From my mother I inherited an appreciation for music, art and aesthetics in general. I became an artist of sorts because of a strong streak of individualism inherent in my character, which has been bolstered by my life experiences.
"My future goals are to write accounts of each major area in Yunnan province, to emulate my hero George Catlin, the American who did similar work with the American Indians west of the Mississippi in the pre-Civil War decades. I want to do more books on Vietnam as well. In addition, I would like to acquire, mainly for my own pleasure, a working knowledge of the Northern Thai dialect.
"I am pleased that Novica gives me exposure to people who might otherwise never hear of me. To collectors around the world I would say, 'keep up your interests – and expand them.'"
Akha Jim is proud of his nickname, which was given to him for his profound knowledge of the Akha hill tribe. However, he signs his work with his given name, Jim Goodman.
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