Oooo, a foreshadowing title! What horrible thing could have happened?
One of the disadvantages of knowing people who have an interest in your well being is that they tend to communicate with you (and, in fairness, vice versa also), and when you’re not right on top of current events in your blog posts then you tend to give away news ahead of time. To those of you who prefer to keep a genteel distance from me at all times, I apologize for having thereby put you at the disadvantage. I’ll do my best to remedy that, somewhat, here.
As I mentioned last time, that Norwegian beach condo in Khanom was definitely the best place I’d stayed in Thailand thus far. Fully equipped, quiet, pollution-free, mostly great internet, great view, great beach, minimal bugs,…. The only downsides were that it didn’t have great air circulation, so afternoons with the windows open could be a bit warm, and it was a bit far from anything useful.
The town of Khanom was a 5-10 minute scooter ride away from the condo building — as I discovered when I rented a scooter for the day from one of the other residents (a large, friendly, Norwegian guy in his 30s who spoke excellent English and would loan me his for 200 baht for the day) and rode there to get groceries and toilet paper. (Side note: I was a bit shocked to find that there was no TP in the place. I’d had the foresight to save the remnant of a roll that maids in a prior place had discarded with a fair bit of paper still on it, and that helped me through the first night. It also made the grocery run on day 2 a vital necessity.) Khanom town proper is maybe a kilometer inland, and had a long and intermittently built-up main street, with assorted small convenience stores, marts, and hardware places. It had a bank and, as I discovered by riding a good long way along it, a small Tesco, and between one place and another I managed to find enough to meet my needs. Especially, a medium sized bag of Jasmine brown rice — I’m not sure how large, because the writing is all in Thai, but I think it weighed 2 Œβ®ð.
My condo had an espresso machine, which got me pretty excited for coffee (though I’d have boiled it in a pot on the stove before I’d have made espresso). However, I was unable to find any place that sold coffee. By which I mean “real” coffee: almost every store I went into sold instant coffees, sometimes a wide selection of them. But it’s one thing to drink that stuff once as a joke, and quite another to attempt to drink it as an actual beverage drunk for the pleasure of the experience. I realized, looking at these shops with their instant coffees and prepackaged foods, that Thailand has reached that point in their technological evolution that we were in the 50s, when the fact that a foodstuff can be conveniently packaged by modern science seems like such an amazing and cool advance that you embrace it with enthusiasm for those reasons alone. In a decade or two, they’ll start to appreciate that real, less processed food tastes better. (I hope. Most of America still hasn’t, but I’ll wish the Thais better luck with that.) Anyway, I’m not sure why the unit even had an espresso machine. Maybe the Norwegian owner, Zuzana, brought her own ground coffee when she’d stay there?
As I’ve been here in Thailand longer, I’ve managed to sort out how to eat fairly healthily without a kitchen, and also how to save a few baht by not eating out so much. Mostly, this involves finding fresh veggies and using yoghurt as a dip, fruit juices with pulp, canned tuna, cheese when I can get it, some reasonably decent instant soups, organic oatmeal (from Rimpig in Chiang Mai), etc. Then supplementing with the occasional meal out. (Sometimes more than occasional; I had breakfast at Coffee Monster every morning that I was nearby, with eggs and sausage and potatoes and toast and jam.) I’d tweak that if I had access to both a kitchen and good grocery stores, but I have yet to have access to both. In Khanom, the Jasmine brown rice made for a nice breakfast, and roughly half the time dinner was at the CC Beach Bar just north of us along the beach.
I confess that I did choose a different seat the next-to-last time I went. The ocean breeze was pretty strong that day, and they’d rolled down clear plastic shades over this central seating area, blocking the wind but also obscuring the view and leaving the space a bit stifling. I moved from seat to seat for about 5 minutes, and finally settled on one under that little thatched roof you see to the south, a wall-less space like an open hut with two backed benches and a picnic table. The wind was pretty strong, but I only ate a little sand from it and it beat being stifled.
CC Beach Bar had a pretty large menu of European and Thai food. I know this because every day I ignored a wide array of available choices and had fish and chips. They were, for the most part, excellent. They also had an array of unacceptable beers. (Heineken, anyone? No thanks. I had to look up how to spell Heineken properly, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.) And mixed drinks, including Irish Coffee! I ate there 5 days, of the 8 I stayed in Khanom: if I was there at dinner time, I had a fruit smoothy; at lunch, I’d have two Irish Coffees. Normally, I’d feel two Irish Coffees fairly strongly, especially starting on an empty stomach. Here, not at all, so I know they were going pretty light on the whiskey — which I’d have resented more, but to get one at all was a matter of rejoicing. To quote Murray on the Mary Tyler Moore show, when a donkey flies, you don’t criticize it for lack of ground clearance. It was tasty enough, regardless. Though I did spend the third and fourth visits trying to decide if it was made with real coffee, or instant. Yes, I know: it seems inconceivable that someone would make an Irish Coffee using instant, but this is Asia and they can readily conceive of things that we Westerners simply cannot encompass. Truth be told, when you add enough stuff to a coffee drink, the actual quality of the coffee really does become secondary (Frappuccino, anyone?). By visit 4, I had parsed the flavors out to the point where I could identify the taste of the instant, but the overall taste was still good and I drank it anyway. By visit 5, they liked me enough to put slightly more whiskey in it than you would see Holy Water sprinkled on a baptised infant, and I got a slight, brief buzz about 1/2-way through the meal, so it clearly pays to be a regular. (I really need to move someplace with better alcohol, or I’m going to make a very poor showing amongst my friends when I’m back in the states. Can I afford a few months in Ireland? Must call my financial advisor.)
They had a small staff, as far as I could tell: I had the same waitress every time I went, and I only saw her and a bartender, and maybe a secondary waitstaff person hanging about doing nothing observable. My waitress had me a bit puzzled. Visit 1, she seemed stiff and a bit disagreeable. Visits 2-5, I saw real moments of friendliness and good cheer, but then I’d see her being stiff and frowny again. As I watched her, I began to get the impression that she physically hurt, and so she moved with some discomfort, holding her body slightly torqued, and you’d get the good cheer when she was less bothered by it. I didn’t ask about it, obviously — it seemed intrusive, and I can’t imagine trying to navigate that discussion across our language barrier. (I may have thereby sacrificed my chance at the Holy Grail, but in all honesty my odds of achieving that goal were never good.) I simply made a point of smiling really warmly and tipping, and I got the good cheer as much as I probably was going to.
It was nice sitting out there, watching the ocean and the people, and having nice things to eat and drink, and reading. There were a pair of old guys who hung out in lawn chairs on the beach, occasionally swimming… quite bald, and spreading a bit in that stocky old guy way. One Mediterranean, one pale European, made me think of Mark and me in 15 years or so — if we were bald and didn’t care about spreading, which we’re not, but they had a similar vibe. Anyway, it definitely qualified as a Nice Place To Sit And Read, so I should take the opportunity to mention a thing that I read there, The Bone Clocks:
This was really quite excellent, but I’m really not sure how to describe it, without giving away any spoilers. I guess I can say that it’s a series of intersecting stories, spanning several characters over roughly 60 years, weaving around a central character of Holly Sykes, a British girl who becomes involved in a war of psychic forces. I’ve been reading SF my whole life, and it’s always a delight to encounter something new. This was new, brilliantly and unusually written, sometimes funny and sometimes quite moving, and did not go any of the places I might have expected. I’ll have to add more of Mitchell’s books to my Amazon Wish List… or, at least, get around to watching Cloud Atlas on Netflix. (Or, quite viably, I might do both.)
I think my favorite part of this stay was swimming, which I did about 2/3s of the mornings I was there. I think it had been a solid 15 years since I’d swum in the ocean. Then, it was mostly when I went to the beach with Brandon or with Ash, and I think the latter stopped about the time he went to college. So, yeah, about 15 years.
I started swimming at the YMCA about 20 months ago, but I had to get there right when it opened or the lanes became a technical challenge in traffic control. And even then, they became that pretty quickly and I got tired of the hassle and stopped going. The other nearby pool was a ways away and required driving, and I never got around to trying it out. But this was right out in the back yard, there’s no lanes, and no conflicting traffic. (Just fishermen hauling in nets from the shore between 6 and 7am, so I wait until they’re done. Wisely, I think.)
I *really* liked it. Cities to me, wherever they are (US, Nepal, England, Scotland, Thailand) just feel like cities to me. Physical structures and people, with slightly different textures in different places. But being out in different nature, that always feels more real to me, and the differences are much more moving. Out in the water, looking at the tropical shoreline and the mountains, that’s when the sense of change hit me, the sense that I was really here and my life was different. The first couple of days, I kept stopping and looking and laughing, and then swimming some more. It was, quite simply, awesome. I’m trying to figure out why I should even go back to Chiang Mai. Buddhist temples, yada, yada, but nature as the real temple is so universally recognized as to have reached the point of cliche. Still true though.
I don’t know. We’ll see how I feel in a month.
All told, I was there for 7 nights, and then scheduled to leave on March 23rd to stay on the nearby island of Koh Samui for 5 weeks, after which I’d have to leave the country and reenter to satisfy my Visa requirements. (Each entry period during the year my visa is valid is good for 90 days.) So, Monday, March 23, I packed everything up, paid the building manager for electricity, water, and cleaning services (about 700 baht, would have been much higher if I’d used the AC), and was picked up by a local taxi guy. This was a muuuuuch nicer taxi than that hellish sauna box that Uncle drove in Chiang Mai. The car was in good condition, the AC was good, the driver, Mr Wat (with whom I attempted no Abbott and Costello routines), was friendly and agreeably talkative, and got me to the Seatran Ferry at Donsak in plenty of time for my 11am boat to Nathon Pier. I sat out in the warm but pleasantly shaded patio area and snacked on water and cashews until I saw people lining up, and after everyone on the arriving ferry departed we slowly worked our way down the sidewalk and onto the boat.
The ferry had a car deck below, a hoi polloi deck above that, and some sort of first class deck on the top. I hadn’t known there even was a first class deck when I bought the 150 baht ticket, or I might have tried it. The hoi polloi deck had an enclosed, air conditioned area, and then a small, open air seating section on the landward end of the docked boat, which became the aft end as we traveled to Koh Samui. I decided to sit outside, to enjoy the fresh air and the view. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake, because the “fresh air” turned out to include a group of French tourists and a Thai local bonding over a shared love of tobacco, and exhaust from the boat’s engines. With the result that my Tuesday was spent in what seems to be becoming the usual, post-pollution, headache day. Hopefully, with enough time, I’ll recover from my Chiang Mai toxic air overload and get this excess sensitivity out of my system. (Pretty please?) On the plus side, we did see some dolphins, and the view was terrific. Maybe next time I’ll risk it again, but I’ll make a point of sitting upwind on that deck, instead of my downwind position at the aft, port corner.
The ferry arrived at 12:30. But that is, as they say, another story.