YES TO EVERYTHING: THAILAND (PART FIVE) Draft chapter for book Sri Thanu, Koh Phangan,
We’d started off in the party area for my step daughter, moved into a proper town for the middle part, and for the last week we moved to the yoga area. We thought we might go to a yoga class- we didn’t- but the main reasons were that it was quiet and there were lots of good vegan food places. We’d thought it might be expensive which was part of the reason we’d had the week in the town, as well as to have some variety and not stay in any one place too long in case we didn’t like it.
Our first introduction wasn’t that great, our taxi driver accidentally pulled up at the wrong property and an unfriendly Westerner leaned out from his balcony and told us all off for parking on the grass. Luckily, the place where we were staying was more friendly. Owned by a Belgium family, the son, who worked behind the bar said, ‘It’s a dream life.’
The accommodation was beach hut style bungalows, with a bar-restaurant on site, coconut palms, lots of greenery and little paths that led directly down onto the beach and tasteful sunbeds. A small swimming pool was on site; at night it was beautifully and temptingly lit up but out of bounds after seven pm.
The toilets did not have bum guns or even a jug and tap near the toilet like we’d grown used to in India and the rest of Thailand. Plus the bum gun is really useful for sluicing down the bathroom floor and getting rid of sand. It’s interesting to see how quickly or how slowly we adapt to new ways of doing things. We’d got used to the bum gun or jug, the water way. This made the seat wet though, and so I said to my husband, can we try and remember to lift the seat up, so it dries and we/I don’t get a wet bum. ‘I’ll try, but it’s going to be hard to undo years of conditioning,’ my husband said. I thought of all the arguments men and women have about this, and how it can change in an instant when your environment or culture changes.
There was a cute but fairly out of control puppy that some tourists had brought back from the street and then just gone home, leaving the guesthouse owners- who already had a dog and who had told the tourists not to bring the puppy back- to feed it. Though they fed it and were going to get its jabs done, the puppy was now not part of a dog pack or a human family. It used to scratch at our door in the night, as our room was where the tourists had stayed.
There were tiny birds in the bushes outside our room, they looked almost like hummingbirds. Around the place, hanging from trees, were strings of shells interspersed with pearlised pink beads, they looked so pretty. We’d seen a similar thing in Haad Rin, a kind of string and shell sculpture hanging from the low branches of trees at the edge of the beach.
The street with a 7/11 was at the end of the entrance drive. Along the ‘main road,’ which was very quiet, were lots of yoga places, lots of restaurants, a freshwater lake, and jungle just off the street. There were lots of scooters and jeeps. Some of the motorbikes had side cars which were like a metal frame or a cart, once we saw an old lady and three kids sitting in one. Others had been made into mobile grocery shops, selling all kinds of fresh fruit and veg, the driver would stop outside a restaurant and ring a bell.
We needn’t have worried about food and prices, as well as all the vegan places there were lots of little Thai places that were relatively cheap to eat at. I say relatively, because everything seemed expensive compared to India. The little Thai places were simple wooden structures at the side of the road, our favourite one had a tiny kitchen made from old blue wooden doors, and inside had everything hanging neatly on the walls, and jars packed onto lots of little shelves, like a cabin. Outside were a few wooden tables and chairs, plants and tree decorations, one a little wooden sign saying, Let it go.
What I read up about Thailand said to try and avoid saying the word ‘no,’ as in Thailand there isn’t a word for no. Although I had all good intentions this proved difficult, almost impossible to stick to; being offered massage and taxi at every turn, as well as being asked questions requiring a yes or no answer, eg would you like a plastic bag. We thought that in tourist areas they had probably got used to tourists saying no, and it didn’t seem to be a problem. What we realised was more important though, was not putting Thai people in a position of having to say no to us, as it appeared to cause discomfort.
One evening we’d finished dinner. I’d had coconut milk and tofu soup and a banana shake. We chatted for a while before my husband decided he’d like a banana shake too. He asked, the woman broke into giggles, hopped from foot to foot, wrung her hands, appearing very uncomfortable, before eventually explaining that the kitchen had, ‘Been cleaned.’ We quickly realised, the kitchen was closed! ‘Oh, okay no problem, we’ll come back in the morning.’ All smiles, harmony restored and my husband did as he’d promised and went back at breakfast and got his shake.
The same thing happened during a big power cut when we were going around finding out if anyone was still cooking, people were unable to say no, so we started saying, ‘Is tomorrow better?’ ‘Yes, come back tomorrow,’ they said, until we found one that was cooking.
During the daytime I wrote in the onsite restaurant, where there was good internet, charging points, water, coffee and food if I wanted it- homemade Belgium fries, tofu and vegetable rice- but also the staff were happy for me to just sit and write.
It was mostly quiet in the daytime, but just like in some places in India, even when no one was there they had the music turned up really loud. After a few days I got up the confidence to ask them to turn it down when there was only me. And just like at the Cactus Bar in Haad Rin, they played really inappropriate music for little kids, I watched/listened as a family with young kids arrived, I was so tempted to say something, but the staff did change it, after a while.
The staff were really nice though, the main person we spoke to was from Burma, he spoke very good English and Thai. He said that Thai people speak very fast on the islands so it’s very hard to learn; he said people speak slower in the North, so that in Bangkok, it is much easier to learn Thai.
The beach, whilst not huge, was very beautiful, and in the evenings we were able to watch the sun set over the sea. It was so beautiful that it felt surreal.
I even tried sunbathing; habitually I cover up from full sun, but I just thought, ‘Yes to everything.’ I dropped a factor of sunblock on the white bits, missed it out altogether on the tanned bits, went swimming, paced around the pool about twenty times, (have I mentioned I’m not that good at sitting doing nothing?) thought, that doesn’t seem to have done anything, so laid on one of the tasteful sunbeds with J for a bit until hot/bored and went in.
I got burned of course, my skin went wrinkly and I thought, well that was stupid.
Stupid of me, I mean. I do have some respect for people who make it their mission to tan and do it safely and slowly and thoroughly because I now know it takes a lot of dedication. (Just like having really nice hair and nails and a good coordinated wardrobe, other things I also don’t do/have.)
After my sunbathing, later on I went for a walk by myself. It was still hot but I covered up and took water with me. I walked past a beautiful shrine, yellow and gold with mirror mosaic that glinted silver in the bright sun.
I had bought new shoes in Kerala on a rare trip to a shopping mall. Alongside my flip flops they were my only footwear. When they were new they had given me huge bloody blisters. In Thailand I started wearing my shoes without socks they had become so comfortable.
Further along the road there was a yoga place, I went in and picked up a programme, they had a huge range of different yoga classes and meditations. It felt too hot for yoga really, but if J had wanted to go to anything I would have gone with her.
I carried on up the road as it became a hill. I said to myself, just to the top and back. I reached the top, said, just over the brow, and then, just a little further. As the road curved to the left suddenly everything opened out to a beautiful view down to the sea. The sea was a beautiful deep blue, there was a little bay, islands, and the sunshine making stripes on the sea. There was even a little stony layby where I could stand and stare safely away from the path of passing jeeps and scooters, and a flat rock to sit on and look down at it all from up high.
On the way back a yoga woman actually said hi and talked and walked with me, unthinkable in India. ‘I thought, she’s been to India,’ she said, recognising my lungi dress. This gives me cred with the Thai yoga people, in the hierarchy India comes top!
We went back to same place where I’d had the coconut soup and I realised in comparison how ill I’d felt when we went there the first time. I’d only dared eat soup and been really anxious about needing the loo. You don’t know how ill you’ve been until you feel well; in a turn around of this song they played everywhere, ‘you never miss the light til its getting low, never miss the sun til its starts to snow, never know you love her til you let her go,’ which may or may not be a good song but I heard it way too many times during that holiday.
Days of writing, maybe I’d been working too hard, and long evenings of sociability when I am a natural introvert, had meant that when I experienced a moment of peace, I really experienced it. We’d all retired early to bed after dinner. I sat on our bed which had a navy cotton ribbed bedspread, it had a familiar quality, I might have once had one like it at home. It was in a pause before we were going to watch Battlestar Gallactica. Quiet, comfortable, no pressure. A rare moment of absolute peace.
Towards the end of our time I had an emotional day, so happy in the morning, so sad at night. My husband and I went out for a vegan breakfast, just us. Just like in Eat Pray Love when she eats the pizza in Naples, it was almost a religious experience. Even the tiles on the floor were so beautiful, of flowers and grasses, just like the floor of heaven. The place was even called something to do with heaven. In the evening before dinner we went onto the beach, sungazing, paddling, watching the unbelievable light and colors in the sky and on the water, like pearlised nail polish.
Then the three of us went out and had dinner at the place we’d discovered during the power cut, a basic looking but busy and popular place at the side of the road. My husband tried a bit of my dinner and saved me some of his. The waiter came and offered us their speciality, mango sticky rice, we protested, ‘Maybe you leave Koh Phangan ten kilos heavier!?’ he said. We agreed to have just one plate to share.
My husband made a joke about me not saving him any of my dinner; J laughed. Even though he was only joking, and even though she was only laughing at him not me, it triggered this awful feeling. First I thought it was simple embarrassment, then I realised it was shame.
The mango sticky rice came with one fork and one spoon, my husband and J picked them up and started eating. ‘You having any?’ he said to me after a while. I had no implement. I could have shared his, I could have used my fingers, actually that is the done thing, but in my shame-state I couldn’t eat. I tried a tiny mouthful just to act normal-it tasted like the best food in the world, perfectly ripe mango and sweet-salty rice with a little bite to it- and then punished myself by not eating any more. I was paralysed with shame. I needed to go for a wee, but didn’t, just left with them and walked back, sitting outside the 7/11 while they went in, waiting to get home.
Here is where I have things in common with the features of emotionally unstable or borderline personality disorder (BPD): emotions that are triggered seemingly easily, come on strong and last a long time. Shame is a particularly important one as many BPD patients will have experienced being shamed as children.
Of course, rationally, underneath all this I realised that my husband was just trying not to let J feel left out; throughout the three weeks we were obviously both aware that we were a couple and of the need to make sure she didn’t feel isolated.
Yet shame, being left out, being left behind, are all big things for me, even though I didn’t name and experience them in so wide awake a way before.
On a previous evening we’d been walking home, my husband and J up ahead, me lagging behind, when my earing fell out and pinged across the ground. Instead of calling them back, I had a half hearted look and then gave up and walked on a bit sorrowfully, only mentioning it when I caught up. ‘Why didn’t you call us?’ My husband said. Immediately they both set off walking back with me and the three of us had a thorough look. We didn’t find it. Although they were my only pair of ‘dangly’ earrings, they were just the cheap gold hoop earrings I’d bought in Haad Rin and had since gone almost black, so it wasn’t important in itself, only as a teaching or a light.
Once I had been on holiday with a group of good friends, on our way home we had all decided to stop off at a certain beach, prolonging the holiday, and all drove separately. For some reason there was some confusion and they left without me or went to a different beach. It was a complete accident but I remember being really upset about it. I think it was the first time I’d really showed that side of myself to them, and they were people I’d known for years.
I even remember during the same holiday, when it was my turn to look after the dinner, someone else had made it, then I stayed in to stir it until it was finished, whilst the others sat outside on the decking with wine and cigarettes. The dinner seemed to take forever and I remember feeling really lonely and left out, even though I love solitude. Another thing I have in common with BPD features, an intense fear of abandonment.
I can trace the origins of some of these characteristics back to schooldays, but right now it’s not about analysing the past, it’s about shining a light on my emotions and responses and ironing out the kinks in as present a moment as possible.
After we got home after the mango sticky rice and 7/11, we went for a walk on the beach. I remember turning my head towards the sea and breathing; it smelled warm, and salty.
Back in the room, lying in bed, feeling my low mood, tearful, letting my emotions play out without suppressing them. Watching them, looking for a positive, use emotions.
We watched Battlestar Gallactica ‘You learned the wrong lesson from your mother. You confused the messenger and the message.’ I don’t know what that means for the character or me but I hope to find out both.
In the semi darkness, my head turned to the wall, I stared at the picture on the wall. It looked like a thing, a white creature with a crumpled face and paws. Paws resting on a table or keyboard, a surface of some kind. As if it were feeling, or controlling, what’s going on below.
I couldn’t find the right words to talk to my husband about it until the next day. I wanted to explain it from the point of view of, look what I found out about myself, and so that he would know me more rather than less.
After I talked to my husband, and with the addition of daylight, I looked again at the picture on the wall. It was just a bowl, and some unidentifiable white things.
But of course these things are never easy to discuss and sometimes things get worse before they get better. My husband said he felt ‘devastated,’ that something he’d said had made me feel so bad, and spent the day feeling like an awful person. I spent the day in a battle to force myself to go swimming. I knew the exercise would make me feel better but at the same time I felt anxious, hopeless and paralysed.
The closer we got to me going off to Tokyo, the worse we seemed to get on, bickering over the smallest things. Maybe it was the pressure of, ‘Oh it’s our last few days, they’ve got to be good.’ Or maybe we were living up to what we’d been saying mainly as a joke, ‘We need to build in a break from each other during this trip as we’ve been together almost 24/7 for six months.’ But I think we were both just sad really.
The two of us went out and I ate a whole portion of mango sticky rice, it was a re do, like buying the earrings from the shop in Haad Rin was.
My husband came in the taxi with me to the ferry, which I was glad about; and because we arrived early we got to spend a few hours alone together. We sat on a wooden platform looking out to sea, talking about our year, and watching big lizards sunning themselves on the rocks before disappearing into the gaps the moment we tried to take their picture.
So we ended up spending five weeks in Thailand, most of it on a paradise island. No travelling other than to and from the island. No taking the night train to Chang Mai from Bangkok with the lady boys, which apparently is meant to be fun. It wasn’t really planned but that was just how it all worked out. I had my hair done and got to wear (relatively) skimpy/fitted clothes. We stayed at easy places. I did lots of writing and relaxing. We ate great food. My hair looked thick, my eyes were sparkling, my face was clear and radiant. If you are travelling in India for a year, if you have a visa like ours where you have to go out after six months, I recommend a month or a fortnight in Thailand. Go stay on a holiday paradise island. You don’t even have to tell anyone, you could just pretend you’re at an Ashram or something. Or just say that you’ve gone there ‘to write.’
Agghhh! Son’s dental surgery postponed until 10th November.
I’m going to schedule this as a separate post for Saturday. My posts are far too long and at least people who can’t or don’t want to read the chapters can easily just check in on where we are if they want to.
This, which means the draft of Thailand is finished! Next up, Tokyo.
See you next week, and thank you very much for reading.