After retiring, he is engaged in various activities, including a book publishing company founded with Cecilia Berg. This book is a product of that company, Berg Kaufman Publishing.
Both men are from Pennsylvania and met during freshman biology class at Edinboro State Teachers College, now Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. That biology class was in their first semester of college in the fall of 1962.
Burgett lives in Corvallis, Oregon and is a professor emeritus at Oregon State University. His career revolves around bees and he spends several months each year at Chiang Mai University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he conducts basic and applied research on multiple species of bees. It was during one of those visits in 1996 that Kaufman was invited to teach a seminar for teachers from that university on solving and preventing environmental problems, which was the subject of a book he co-wrote with Berg.
Kaufman retired from Miami University in 2016 after 50 years of teaching at all levels from kindergarten to elementary school to college and graduate school.
The seminar in Chiang Mai was only one evening, but Kaufman said he took a month off from teaching to extend the trip, not just to visit his friend, but to experience Thailand.
“My teaching started to get a bit stale. I was determined to experience that culture to the fullest. I had been teaching for 30 years by then and needed new examples in my teaching,” he said. “I was determined to do whatever came my way, with no schedule.”
The book looks at those experiences and offers a story for everyone to enjoy. That unplanned thing was illustrated on Kaufman’s first day in Chiang Mai. He got there on a Sunday and they were supposed to visit a research station the next day, but when he got off the plane he was greeted by Burgett who said they would leave immediately.
“I had a 36-hour flight and Mike said we’re going to the research station NOW,” he said. That was a 12-mile trip, but it involved driving slowly on mountain roads, often more like trails. After dinner, Kaufman said all he wanted to do was go to sleep and did so on a mat in the corner, completely missing an evening party in his honor. He slept for 12 hours and the next morning the group of six left for a camping trip to the top of a mountain. They reached the top and camped for the night. The unusual title for the book came about as a result of the discussion and exchange that evening.
The six men discovered that they were all born in 1944, the Chinese year of the forest monkey.
According to Chinese astrology, each year is associated with an element (one of five) and an animal sign (one of 12). Combinations occur every 60 years, so 1944 and 2004 were years of the forest monkey. People born under that combination are said to be compassionate, always ready to help others; they have a strong sense of self, but are stubborn.
In the book, he writes about that realization: “From the far reaches of my brain, I remember a little bit of trivia. In 1944, some forty million people were born worldwide, and six of us are here tonight, sitting together on a mountaintop in Thailand, under a dome of glittering stars, swirling galaxies, shooting stars and random satellites, drinking a bottle of cheap whiskey. and a priceless sense of brotherhood. Life is good.”
The book shares many insights about Thailand, its customs and everyday life, as well as a wide variety of food choices. As an example of one of the many gourmet options mentioned in the book, Kaufman noted that his breakfast the first morning at the research station consisted of cabbage and porcupine soup.
He said the book was created after his retirement and that it took more than three years to complete. He was the main writer working from daily journal entries he wrote while in Thailand.
“When I retired, I had 35 ideas for books. For some I had outlined chapters, some were just ideas. I wanted to see if Mike was interested in a book. He was all for it. He’s an incredible scientist, but he doesn’t keep records,” Kaufman said. “I would write a section as I remember it and send it to him. He would read it and return it. He said, “I’m really glad you have a diary.” When we got the final manuscript, we gave it to Cecilia Berg, our editor, and she started polishing it.”
Kaufman said he has never been to Thailand since that month in 1996, which he sees in two ways. On the one hand, he said a second trip could never duplicate the memories of the first, but he’s also curious about that country now and thinks about returning every now and then.
The Monkey Brothers Adventures in Thailand can be ordered at amazon.com or directly from Kaufman at email@example.com.