A little sign hangs outside of Albert’s house that reads “Baan Albert,” with a phone number underneath, and the words: “space for rent,” but really this is a guesthouse for affluent, social foreigners. “Baan
” is a Thai word for place of residence, and Albert is a German
man, who I assume must have fallen in love with a country, and had enough foresight to plot his retirement there. But that sign tells you every day that this is not your home. It tells you that this is the dream of another man, and you are only sharing it for as long as you can afford.
In Thailand, a haggard fisherman reels in his line from outside your dwelling, on a white sand beach, with pristine waters, and a thorny smattering of coral far too close to the shore, so that you have to be careful where you swim. There is a dense jungle close to you, close enough that if you visited one of the more rural islands, like Koh Samui, you may be able to walk outside to the edge of a dense thicket of vegetation. I dare you to go in. You will not make it five minutes through that overwhelming humidity. You will not make it ten minutes before being attacked by something. The fauna is so vivacious, and contrasts with the rustic poverty that engulfs most of the people, but the Thai world, at least outwardly, still appears more vibrant than the world of the developed countries.
You have to be careful of the coconuts too, they fall from the palm trees and split open heads. I think everyone outside of a tropical country laughs the first time they hear this; it sounds like a Laurel and Hardy routine, only this is not slapstick. One woman told me to take out “Coconut Insurance;” I’m not sure if that is a unique joke because I do not come from the Asian countries, and did not stay long enough to ask that question. The coconuts look a lot less threatening when you see the coconut plantation workers burning them, in between popping another Kratom leaf in their mouth to chew, or when you see tourists sipping the coconut milk out with a straw when they arrive at their hotels.
There are cobras in the gardens too. Just when you think you have learned all of the vegetative threats, then you have to deal with the animals. The deadly snakes are the first thing you hear about, then the giant centipedes or millipedes, or whatever that giant crawler I saw on the patio was. You may walk out to smoke a cigarette by the beach, during the daylight of course- only people with a death wish walk around an area without cement at night- when your arm brushes up against some ants. Some of the people from the more rural areas, especially Isarn, eat these red biting ants alive over rice and call it Mon, and you can never quite bring yourself to that, but they bite hard, and you wiggle about to get them off you as quick as possible. The girls like to throw them on you so be careful if you are by a plant with a colony of them because she might slingshot them off back at you, and be even more cautious if you are at the beach during lunch and your eyes close. The ants build big white cocoons on the leaves, but I am not sure if they are parasitic to the plant.
If you are wise to all of this, you still cannot escape the heat. That is something that you cannot dodge. It is an intense thick heat, which makes you want to stay inside for the air conditioning, or get into the water, but at the very least, you want to wipe the sweat from your forehead and drink something to escape dehydration. Yet, you will soon notice that all of the Thai people do not sweat, they are used to the heat of their world, and by evening, when you put six drinks in your gut, it starts to piss you off that they can deal with it and you cannot.
After all of those threats you still love the chaos of Thailand. Perhaps it is just an exchange from the chaos that already exists in your own world, and seems to exist forever. If you are lucky enough, rather, if you are curious enough, to walk down a rural Thai road, without the bars, hotels, merchants, or restaurants for the westerners, and it is in the evening, then you can see the families beginning their meals. They might stare at you. They are wondering if you are a threat, or maybe they are just surprised to see a white man walking down their isolated street. They eat dinner all night together; they do everything together-- everyone sleeps in the same bed, and they make something of the sparse accommodations they actually do have, and what you finally admit you have been blessed with more than they have been. But you still throw it all away.
The food is spicy, and while those beads of sweat on your neck make you say “Why would these people want to get any hotter?” you eat it. You are trying to feel like they do for a while. Then, after you have been there long enough, and are willing to give up on the whole “ I’m going native because I only have limited time, and want to experience it all” concept, your confession of desiring a nice pork chop finally overwhelms you. You never had weinerschnitzl before because you are American, and in America we just call them fried pork chops, but the German you are with gets it, and it looks quite hardy. Then you realize how the Thai make your food better and cheaper than you do in your own country, and you start getting all the western food. If you are with a girl, you finish her Thai dish because the women never finish their meals. That is the last way you will ever get a taste of Thai food, and so you burn your mouth off while finishing her meal, lumping down huge spoonfuls of rice, and something with curry because you are either drunk or gluttonous.
Nearly every restaurant on Samui is located near a beach, or if not, the palm trees, cool breeze and entrances absent of doors make it feel exotic anyway. You wonder how they can feel so comfortable with a front wall absent on their businesses for 12 hours a day, and you wonder where the scorpion may have gotten to in the joint. You begin to like that first step, they always have one single step to enter their businesses, and it feels like they are not hiding anything. They are occluding something- their emotions and thoughts, but at least in physicality, they are open with their bodies and daily activities. A front wall to a business must mean something though, it must mean that you want someone to think you have nothing to hide, but really you have so much.
One afternoon you may go to a bar in Lamai, and if you did end up there in the daytime, especially if your residence is located someplace else, I am sure you are with a woman who took you to the beach. You sit down at one of the bars, probably the one she works at, and have your first Chang beer at 2:00 p.m., while she goes into the communal dwelling to change her cloths or her bed, and you see her friend get into a taxi, and the ride lasts only one minute before she gets out. She is a small girl with crooked teeth, but for some reason she is still cute, and she wears a jasmine green blouse. I suppose if you’re observant enough you may see this; if you have nothing else to look at or think about, but others may not be so perceptive. However, if you do see it, you ask the girl you are with when she comes out of the communal dwelling what it was all about. You already know she bought drugs, but you want to prove how nothing gets past you. She will play coy because the girls all know and protect each other amidst the competitive game, but if you smoke cannabis with her, she eventually admits to your suspicion with a grim confession because she knows you will not tattle, and this time she tells you Yaba was purchased. You better not cause any trouble because it will end in more pain and suffering for you; even though it ends in pain and suffering when you do not think you are betraying them anyway.
All those morning joints on the beach were just a cover for your own skepticism. It is easy to like those girls. Then somebody who has been in Thailand before, and who has read all the warning novels about Thai people tells you to be careful, and they tell you why to be careful. Then you spend the rest of your adventure trying to get one simple word of truth, but instinctually, you know did not get it.