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Coconut and mango shakes (Thailand 2010, part 1)

January 11th, 2010 | No Comments

Ah, now that is just what I needed – a coconut and mango shake. Some days it is coconut and pineapple, and sometimes I might throw in a little papaya, but tonight this combination was speaking to me. My other satisfaction for the day is that after a week in Thailand I finally got into the water. Yesterday I finished my Thai Massage program, and tomorrow I move up the island to the site of my one month yoga course. Today was my opportunity to jump on a boat, do some snorkeling, do some swimming, do some fresh pineapple-eating, and circle the island of Koh Phangan, my home for 6 weeks in the Gulf of Thailand. Sometimes life feels like you are dating a contortionist – everything is possible. I can’t see how one can feel otherwise while enjoying a coconut and mango shake.
If we adopt the belief that the purpose of each human life is to learn a lesson, then inevitably we proceed to pondering what our lesson for this life might be. I have experienced moments of great confidence in recent years that I had it figured out. Even those times when I established that I knew nothing, I was elated and comforted in the knowledge of just that. When you know nothing, you never have to be right – how tremendously liberating. At worst, these were instances of spiritual bypassing or mental vacations. At best they were glimpses of evolution through reincarnation. However lying in bed, bear-hugging my girlfriend my last night in Vancouver before this extended solo adventure, I was overwhelmed by the concern that if I were to die tomorrow, I would not know what my lesson was.

Deepak Chopra observed that the day of my departure was a “Pivot” day – the date appears backward as it does forward (01022010). The significance is that on such a date we start again, and move forward without out baggage of yesterday. It is already done. On these days, your life changes. As such, the thoughts of the previous night were no longer my story. The Dalai Lama says that we can not control what happens to us, only how we respond to those experiences. The fear switch has been turned off, and I am going to imbibe this adventure like a glass of business class wine.

Why do the washrooms in Executive Class airport lounges smell nicer than some restaurants? Had I not spent so much time utilizing the free internet service, I might have taken a bowl of Italian Garden Medley soup and my tall Crown & ginger into the washroom to enjoy it. Business class is such a great way to travel. I love the stewardesses for the various Asian airlines too – especially when they move through the airport in groups. Like a school of tiny scarfed fish. I think they really do need to step through a cardboard cut-out in order to get the job. They look like they are replicated from a mould designed by Walt Disney, in concert with the pervert that makes all the American Apparel advertising.

If I was people-watching back home, a chubby balding Caucasian man walking alone would not register the slightest blip on my radar. However in Bangkok, I want to run into the streets and celebrate as though he were the 1 millionth shopper at a grocery store. I was curious why my hotel was so adamant and repetitive with their mantra against patrons bringing “guests” into the hotel… until I walked a block over. Sitting on the patio of the only establishment on the block I could find that did not appear to supply each drink with a girl instead of a swizzle stick, I was able to survey the depraved acreage. I really wanted to buy a laser pointer, or some other superfluous item, from a female street vendor who was selling crap instead of herself. I spent 20 minutes watching one interaction at a bar across the street. I can’t imagine why that woman was crying. Think of how upset she would be saying goodbye to her REAL grandpa.

The sidewalks are narrow, so not simply walking single-file requires effort. This created just enough mystery to keep me at my perch. The profile of a man walking hand in hand with his “asset” is not so cliche as to describe a balding, socks & sandals wearing, retired community college professor, but that sure does cover a lot of them. I was clearly staying in an area where Western women did not book lodging. I saw nothing but foreign men as I walked past the open doors of venues called Climax, Charming, and Annie’s Do Do Bar & Soapy Massage (I can’t make shit like that up). In yogic terms we might say that these are men looking to assert their recessive masculinity. However they are playing poker against a hand that is face up – there is no masculinity in that. They want these girls to flirt with them, to to shop with them, and apparently to play Connect Four with them (I can’t believe that game still exists). A Dutch couple sat beside me, and the woman held an expression of disgust as this walking fossil entered the bar with a young Thai girl. Upon seeing this her husband pulled her in close, whispered something in her ear, and they shared a laugh. Beautiful.

I understand the allure of the big cities I have been to; London, New York, Calcutta, Lima, Bangkok – but I can’t say I have ever fallen in love with them. Instead I have always preferred the comparatively smaller cities – Dublin, Melbourne, Cuzco, Venice, etc.. I like city centers that I can go to a high point and see the end of. Cities are like backpacks, and I prefer ones I can carry. Towns that are small enough to fit into your pocket, leaving your hands free, are even better. On vacation, my ideal is to go as light as possible. Leaving Bangkok for an island in the south felt right for me. The island of Koh Samui has the perfect airport, with one baggage carousel, one small lounge each for arrivals and departures, and completely open-air. Paradise found. From there I took a ferry to Koh Phangan.

The dock on Koh Samui, waiting for the ferry to Koh Phangan

The dock on Koh Samui, waiting for the ferry to Koh Phangan

There are more tattoo shops here than there are Starbucks in Seattle, gelato places in Florence, and gyro places on Santorini COMBINED. There can’t be that many good tattoo artists in Asia, let alone on this one island. Apparently there are sufficient connoisseurs of tramp stamps and thorny armbands to keep them all in business. The TV show Friends is the venereal disease of the island – it is in every bar. I walked to the beach where they have the legendary full moon parties – gorgeous. Insanely soft sand, waves crashing… without people sucking soothers and covered in neon paint, it is very impressive. The food is amazing, and I am replacing my daily water intake with green curry. One evening I succumbed to the pure tourist trap of putting my feet into a tank with 1,000 fish, who eat all of the dead skin, etc off you. This is officially the craziest sensation in the world. The first 5 minutes is almost unbearable, but then it starts to feel enjoyable. Less than $10 for 30 minutes. I understood why it was so cheap when the manager spent part of that time trying to get me to take a massage in a private room with one of the girls. Sorry dude, the only member of your staff touching me are the fish. Very quickly I was able to identify the the massage places with all of their beds visible from the front window like barber chairs as the legit offerings (as opposed to the happy-ending-that-you-would-regret-in-seconds-and-that-would-ruin-your-I-don’t-pay-for-sex-record-and-buying-shooters-at-The-Roxy-doesn’t-count establishments).

"Fish Massage" - 1,000 fish going to work

"Fish Massage" - 1,000 fish going to work

The reason it took me so long to get into the water after arriving on the island was because I was immersed in a Thai Massage course. Run by a Thai man, his British ex-wife and 4 cats, their shop became the hangout place for students, whether they were practicing or not. I made friends with 2 German and 1 Swedish girl, and a Swiss guy, who were also taking various massage courses. The school insists that part of the education technique includes being the “body” so that fellow students can practice. That’s right, I spent 3 days rubbing and being rubbed. We all went for a beer one night with a German guy that is staying in the same hotel as us, and he was covered in bruises from his thai kickboxing training. I compared his days to mine, and told him that I win.

One evening after class I took the opportunity to travel up the coast to see the facilities of where I would be staying for the yoga course. The Sanctuary is only accessible by boat – a 15 foot “longtail”, which looks like a row boat with a Mad Max propeller at the end of an 8 foot pole afixed to it. After the prerequisite haggling with the ferryman, we braved choppy seas to the first beach to the North East. My stop was to be the second beach on the map, but due to insufficient fellow travelers to that port of call, I was forced to hike over a hill to my destination. I descended through the forest to a Lord Of The Flies set to dance music scene. The Sanctuary, and really the whole beach, was hosting a hippy gay wedding. That is not a metaphor. 60’s-era hippies everywhere, and the bridal couple were both male – and me without my mascara, sparkles, and feathers. Alice’s Wonderland looks like the republican national convention next to this scene. I made my way through the crowd of fairy wings and masquerade adornments to the reception desk/bar. I take it this is a bad time? I resolved to tour myself through the bungalows that dotted the back hill of the property, appropriate for the wood nymphs, leprechauns and hobbits housed in them. I found the yoga studio (gorgeous) and an open dorm room above it, where I will be staying. Opening the wicker door an inch was enough to send the 8 inch lizard scampering across the wall. The ashram I stayed at last year in India was Spartan – this is a tree house with a mattress. Hence why I am staying in town right up until the start of the course.

My view from my place on Sunset Beach in Haad Rin

My view from my place on Sunset Beach in Haad Rin

Of course my only option to get back to town was to hike back to the first beach before sunset and hire a boat. The captain this time agreed right away to take me back… if I could find four more people. By the time I grabbed a beer from a bar at the edge of the sand, the horizon from this little cove was black. Refusing to be stranded, I convinced a gaggle of drunken Aussies (they are never more than 25 feet away here) that my boat was leaving before theirs, and loaded up the Minnow.

Waves are like cockroaches – the big ones come out at night.  Getting off the beach was a Herculean labour. The propeller blades rattled like a penny in a tin can as they spun in the air. Yes I know, these should be under water, but the waves had other ideas. Our only light was the ember of the cigarette dangling from the lips of the Thai Keith Richards piloting our boat. We bounced around the boat as if we were in the car of a 100 year old rollercoaster. I turned to my fellow passengers and asked “Aussies are born life guards, right?”. One assured me he would save us all if needed, and asked where I was from. I thanked him and replied “Canada. We play hockey. A fuck of a lot of good that does me right now”.  I didn’t actually kiss the sand when we made land again, but I was of course thrilled not to be yet another one of the walking wounded that litter the island. You can see why I prefer the sanity of a coconut & mango shake.

Time for the next stage of the adventure – a month of bendiness on the beach.

This one time, at yoga camp…

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