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on the road - 23 12 2002 - 09:09 - katatonik

A day on a Thai island, with some order

At some point it becomes necessary to open one’s eyes. It is warm, but not hot. The sheets are white and clean; they feel comforting, but not overwhelming. The bright light of a late morning sun is filtered through the yellowish curtains. People are walking by, thump-thump, steps on the path along the beach. Waves are gently sinking into the shore, shush-shush. Kids are screaming oooh-aah-ooh-aah-yippie, in various languages.

The massage ladies are already out on the beach (“want massaaaaage? want massaaaage?”). They not only offer Thai massage to holiday-makers, but also show little holiday-maker-girls picture albums with beautiful women with braided hair. It doesn’t take long until the little girls demand of their parents the transference of funds into the massage ladies’ pockets, in exchange for which the girls soon get to run around with braided hair, klinker-klonker, beads woven into their hair.

Perhaps a sip of water from the bottle next to the bed, perhaps a brief complimentary trip to the bathroom, where the light is much brighter through the window in the roof. Then comes the dozy slip into the bathing suit, the pulling aside of the curtains. Swooosh. The tide is high, the sea is calm, the sky is blue, the sun is shining, all the best from a wonderful holiday, signed yours truly.

Perhaps go in for a swim. Perhaps not. At any rate, walk over to the restaurant, past sunbathers, readers, collectors of sand, relaxers in hammocks. Some nod in friendly recognition, others don’t. One recuperates either way. Palm-trees and beach to the left, bungalows to the right.

Sit down, browse the menu brought by the strolling young waiter or the strutting not so young waitress. But one already knows what to choose, anyway: a coconut which will be served open at the top, with a straw for ready consumption of its sweetish juice, filter coffee, an omelette with tomatoes and onions, and toast, fresh fruit. Briefly wonder, every day, why the amazing variety of nameless fruit available on the island just never makes it to the breakfast table. Why only bananas, water-melon, papayas, and pineapple? Why no jackfruit? Why no rambutan? Why none of that pseudo-kiwi with white flesh and pink skin whose name only the fish know, and they don’t tell? Why none of those giant grapefruits which, if I am not mistaken, commonly go by the name of “pomelo”? Jolly good, still. Eat and joke with the neighbours who have in the meantime appeared. Examine the progression of sunburn on the other breakfasters’ skin and congratulate yourself to your own sense of caution, the one that releases you into bright sunlight only if coated in SPF 15 (at the expense of maintaining the not so becoming appearance of a white, flabby pumpkin).

Then perhaps walk up the road to the small cafée with the extra-friendly waiter, where they serve some real and fair-trade-labelled Thai highland coffee. The blissful shock of real espresso. Walk balk to the beach bungalow, to exert the mind (thinking), the lips (chatting), the fingers (hitting the computer keyboard), the mind plus the eyes (reading), the flesh (swimming), or just the oh-so-subtle sense of gravitation built into one’s organs (lying flat on the belly doing none of the above). Listen to some Swedish chatter of the family next door whose little girl has braids and is otherwise known for consuming vast amounts of strawberry ice-cream. Show sympathy with the little French boy with the ear-infection (whose slightly bigger sister has braids and is always quiet). Always leave the sliding glass doors open, to occasionally look at the sand, the sea, and the passers-by who cast curious glances into the interior of whatever bungalow offers them a view. Think about modernity, read about malaria and the twisted history of the discovery of its transmission, and find that even literary exercises in capturing gloom’n doom in 1980s Germany eventually take one of their protagonists to South Asia, somewhere. Feel like a gloomy character from 2002 Europe currently taken to South Asia, Thailand. Ponder over differences and similarities. Sip water. Sigh.

Perhaps rent a motorcycle and drive on that unbelievably curved road, down to the fishing village after which the road soon ends, or up and around to the other side of the island where population is much more sparse. Be careful with those serpentine roads. They are steep and spit out many vehicles that unexpectedly come your way. And those dogs, sometimes sleeping in the middle of the road. And those tourists, like yourself, riding on those motorbikes concentrating so hard not to hit anything, or anyone, which makes them occasionally loose balance and on the whole makes them quite irritable, really. Perhaps stop at one of the internet cafes. 3 Baht per minute or 4? The one right up the road even has an Espresso machine, but the coffee can’t beat the fair-trade Thai highland available round the corner. Wonder why everyone still uses hotmail. Read news and wonder why you care.

Fall asleep around four in the afternoon latest, after an early afternoon beer or two followed by a swim in the lukewarm sea, where one might even find a confused fish here and there. The real fish is out there, near the smaller islands. One could rent a canoe and paddle out there, then snorkle over bizarre coral formations and giant sea-urchins, next to groups of excited tourists with bright orange life-jackets. Look at swarms of small blue or larger striped fish. Perhaps even stare into the hidden eyes of a bigger crab, who knows. Look at the strange arrangements of tiny little balls of sand which the smaller crabs, about 2 centimetres at most in perimeter, lay out around their living-room-holes. Wonder what these might be for: mating or catching sand-fleas? Discuss with neighbours and develop theory about hidden messages containing solutions to all the problems of the world passed on to humans through crab-ball-labyrinths, for centuries already. Oh, the tragedy of it all: still noone around to decipher them. But perhaps it would just be something like “kindly refrain from stepping crabs while walking on the beach, thank you”.

Awake in time for what the neighbours charmingly call a “sun-downer”. Sit on their terrace, munch coconut-cream coated peanuts, with coffee-, chicken- or plain coconut-flavour, dried jackfruit (hail the jackfruit!), sip beer out of the neighbours’ fridge and join them in slow, unexcited admiration of the sunset followed by slightly more agitated discussion. Better than yesterday’s? Well, yesterday there were more clouds, but then again, their pattern was most unbecoming to the quick vanishing of the great orange ball in the sea, you know. So perhaps today’s cloudless sinking of same ball into the sea is to be preferred? Oh, the aesthetic subtleties of the debates! (care for more beer?)

When the sun has sunk, and the skin has been properly anointed with mosquito-repellent smelling of lemon, it is time for dinner. Dress is informal, shoes not required.
One first steps up to the stall behind which a barbecue grill sizzles away today’s catch of seafood, or corn, or potatoes, and such. One discusses the relative merits of this fish or that squid and informs the friendly Thai person in attendance of one’s choice for preparation. Coated in garlic and pepper? Sweat-sour? Just plain barbecue, perhaps? Then select a few curries to go with the fish, the squid, or the prawn, a bit of rice, and more beer. Sit down and look at the lights, chatter, laugh, sip. Eat while comparing today’s taste with yesterday’s, at the other restaurant over there. Arrive at preliminary conclusions only. Take pictures with digital camera, proudly or jokingly show them to the neighbours, who will in turn show theirs. A digital camera feast, really, on top of the taste feast for which “dinner” is only a pale, very pale designation.

Perhaps move to the “no name bar” for an after-dinner cocktail. Their margaritas are just fine, thank you. Maybe that muscular young man will perform some of his fire tricks, swirling firebrands around his arms, his waist, his head, or just in circles in front of or behind his body, which one you can never tell, it’s all so fast, really. Stroll back after one or even two cocktails, on the path lit by pale moonlight.

Close the glass doors. Be careful to lock that door; you don’t want to attract mysterious visitors who wake you up by pointing a flashlight straight into your face at 2:30 a.m., no thank you. Close the curtains. Prepare the bungalow to look yellowish again in the morning. Read this, or that, or even the other. Listen to distant sounds of bar music, to the sea, the sea, and the sea. Sleep.

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