Monday, February 10, 2014

Trouble in Paradise

Well, I don't want to fall off the blogging wagon (or is that get on the blogging wagon, if being on the wagon means you're not doing something? because then I'd be trying to avoid falling off the not-blogging wagon, right? OK, that's what I meant. ANYway...) but I've been a little busy and uninspired the past few days. Let's see what happened....

Our good friends Ann and Kyle, whom we first met in Korea and have since hung out with in two different cities in China, are on vacation in Phuket, so we all got to hang out in our third country together. Naturally, when you gather four expat teachers around a table, it's pretty easy to guess what sorts of beverages will be on that table. I spent more money and read fewer pages in the four days after their arrival than I really care to think about. But, a good time was had by all as we took second place at the weekly trivia night at Roxy Bar, spent an afternoon at Patong (including: barefoot lunch in the sand, sunset, and a game of pool at a shady bar once darkness fell), spent a day at Laem Singh (more barefoot lunch, they paddle boarded, and I flew! my first para-sailing adventure!), wandered the Phuket Old Town Festival that so nicely coincides with these Jan-Feb stints we like to have in this place (last time, in 2012, it fell on our first weekend here and we've since referred to it as our "welcome party"), and then, as if that weren't enough, set sail to Ko Phi Phi!

Yes, I'm still talking about the same four-day period. Naturally, Kyle and Ann planned to head to Phi Phi Don because they'd not seen it before on their first (lackluster, monsoon season) quick trip to Phuket. Brian and I had done a day trip to Phi Phi in 2012, but this time we decided to stay over in a bungalow and see what all the beach fuss was about. Oh, my god. The fuss, apparently, is about madness! Kyle said the beach smelled like "gasoline and bad decisions" and I'm inclined to agree.

First of all, though, I would like to confess that I am ever so slightly underwhelmed by the KPP. I can't tell you how much I heard about it being one of the best beaches in the world. At the risk of sounding spoiled, I've seen other beaches that pleased me just as much. Now, the rising limestone rock faces surrounding the cove are apparently what gets Phi Phi its accolades, as well as the by-all-accounts superb diving below the surface (of which I didn't partake -- we just kayaked and snorkeled a bit), but I just don't see the point of dragging all of those boats, people, food, drinks, infrastructure, construction, shops, etc. to this tiny spit of land. It seems better suited to be a day trip or camp-on-the-beach place. I've been hearing so much about how Thailand/Phuket are basically doing nothing wise with regard to the rampant development as tourists flock to this paradisiacal place that is going to be an environmental disaster in a few minutes here if someone doesn't start paying attention, and this hit me harder than ever at Ko Phi Phi.

It's like Obama all over again: while I appreciate Ko Phi Phi to a certain extent, it didn't captivate me. It's like I'm missing something that others see, which is generally how I felt whenever Barack opened his mouth in 2008. "But have you heard him speeeeeeeeeeeeak?" the people would swoon. Yes, yes I had. There was no there there, you might say. Funny enough, on the boat on the way to Phi Phi we got in just such a politically themed discussion, which ended with Kyle and I placing a bet on Hillary 2016.  He thinks she's going to win; I think she's not going to run. (Why? Because fuck all y'all, that's why. She should have been prez in 2008 and everyone knows it, including B & Michelle O.) She's fated to be like that other great HC in U.S. politics, Henry Clay, the great compromiser, the perhaps smartest and shrewdest of all the peeps of his time (up there with my boy JQA, at any rate), the hardest worker, the one who was destined to be president, like, four times in a row but was continually thwarted by upsarts (Van Buren, Polk) and assholes (Jackson) and other bizarre political circumstances.

Back to Phi Phi. As for the nighttime debauchery, there was certainly a lot of fire involved. Juggling fire, shooting flames on a lick of gasoline, spinning fire, flaming jump ropes, you name it. Where there's fire, there's bound to be smoke, and I'm sure that the lungs of many were indulging that night. Interestingly, while we were enjoying some beers at the Chillout Bar (I think that's what it was called), I looked around at the spectacle unfolding up and down the beach and stated that I felt reasonably certain someone somewhere was going all Walter White on this scene and that there was probably meth in the crowd. Upon returning to the mainland and picking up the latest Phuket News, I read two stories of recently busted meth dealers. So there's that.

It's not that I don't recommend going to Phi Phi, but I do recommend lowering your expectations bungalow wise, if you don't spring for a fancy resort, and I do hope you can handle the smell of more than a few bad decisions, most relating to sewage and other basic infrastructure delights that take on new meaning when you have thousands of revelers showing up on a sandbar. Meanwhile, Brian got food poisoning, and it seems most likely timing-wise that it was from something he ate there, which is perhaps adding to my negative take on these last few days. (And no, I'm not one of those people who calls every twinge of the gut food poisoning.)

And so we come to the one-week point:  one week left in Phuket (this time!). I have accomplished a bunch of things, and by a long shot I have not accomplished all of the things I had hoped to accomplish at the end of week three, let alone a full day into week four, but isn't that the nature of life and creativity and work and passion and also beer?

Furthermore, we had to face a tough decision here. On a whim, I applied for a newspaper editor position here and much to my delight/anguish, was offered the job. The unfortunate reality, beyond the low salary (not Mexico-teaching low, but lower-than-China-teaching low), is that I couldn't accept it because we have things to do at the moment, plans that can't be easily altered, a few engagements in the U.S., some life details to attend to, financial commitments, and so on, and one can't really ask an employer to hold a job for two months, now can one?  I had a majorly traumatic 48 hours trying to figure out how to make it work, and when I realized I couldn't make it work, I accepted that but still felt a little sad.

The moral of the story is: can we have a few more filtered water coolers and a whole lot less plastic tossed into the bins/street/ocean? Can we work on the public transit on this island and ditch the vast numbers of motos, private cars, and many accidents? (The having-to-get-a-car-if-we-live-here thing was part of the anguish, I might add, financially speaking. Why can't this place get some nice, clean shuttle buses going and discourage so much individual motorized transport? Also: bicycles, people! Bicycles! Alas, I know there's a rainy season...)  Can we please try to keep everything magic and beautiful?

I would, however, recommend that all the assholes in China who have the evil nerve to tie up their cats take a trip to Phuket and see how beautiful and glorious it is to let cats have their freedom to walk around to which they are entitled. There are plenty of Chinese tourists here; I hope they get inspired when they see cats living how they should live to tell friends back home to knock it off with the cruel restraints.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Thai it up!

It was said as she cleared our table, collecting the now-empty plates and flatware:
"You guys eat like Thai people!"

Brian and I smiled. What a fun (and funny) comment. We both think eating in Phuket is basically the best thing about being here, or at least in the top two. (Do we have to order them?  How do you rank paradise?) We definitely make use of the Thai condiments, and we can often be seen using the fork to push the food onto the spoon, and we absolutely like the things that pass our lips to be spicy. All I want out of my day is a Thai curry. (And to think I used to be so blase about Thai food, back in the L.A./Boston/New York day when I just seemed to prefer all my many other options so much more...but when it's fresh, delicious, on-the-spot, and a mere $2, it's hard to argue...)

We go to this particular restaurant in old town Phuket, called Wilai, at least once a week; it was one of the places we discovered two years ago on our first trip here and it was a no-brainer we'd go back now that we're Phuketting again. It's very popular with foreigners, but it's Thai food (which I do have to point out, because lots of cuisines are available here: burgers, Italian, Japanese, even a bit of Mexican at the popular beach areas...)   Earlier, when a different staff member had taken our order, she had clarified that we really wanted the food spicy (no, really) and I saw her cross out something in Thai she'd written at the top of the pad on which she was writing our order, which caused a good minute or two of speculation: I imagined a system in which they write "foreigner" at the top to warn the cooks, and I fantasized that she had crossed it out upon learning we really wanted spicy food...

So, to have at the end of that particular meal on that particular day another restaurant staffer just bust out the amused-and-pleased "you eat like Thai people!" and go on to explain that she saw us dipping our food in the spicy sauces just as the Thais apparently would was hilarious, indeed.

Less than two weeks remain this time around in Phuket. Is there anything else I absolutely must try/eat/see here before I go?