15 February 2006

Impressions of Paradise

Halfway along in this five-week stay in Thailand . . . Each day I move slower, sinking deeper into life’s simplicity, the gentle warmth of air and water, and of the people who live here. In this respect there is little difference between the native Thais and the foreigners vacationing here, or those who have adopted it as their home. The pace of life is universally relaxed, at least on the island of Koh Phangan . . . even at the thronging spit of beach known as Haad Rin, home of the world’s biggest full moon party.

This is supposed to be the dry season, but it has rained almost every day, and recently for most of the day and night. The occasional appearances of full sun are reminders of the blasting power of that element, which otherwise is rather subdued, moderated by soft clouds and caressing breezes. At night there is seldom need for more than a sheet, and often just half of that is enough to cover bare skin. In the sun it is impossible to keep clothes dry from sweat, and in the torrential rain likewise impossible to stay dry. But there is no panic of hypothermia or even much of a chill . . . just acceptance of that other universal element, the water which surrounds us.

I’ve been somewhat guiltily managing to carry on my editing business here, averaging a couple hours a day of work on the laptop. Internet connection businesses are everywhere, so it was a simple matter to find one with a fast connection and ethernet cable to hook into my laptop for transferring edited files. The guilt part has something to do with working at all here, when the experience of paradise is so rich and full in itself; a feeling that I should be immersed as fully as possible in it while it lasts. The other part of the guilt has to do with enjoying the best of both worlds . . . that’s it’s somehow unfair or undeserved to be able to make one’s living in so relaxed and effortless a way as this. In fact the combination is doing what I anticipated it might: convincing me that living and working here at least six months of the year is eminently sensible.

The other part of my working life is also coming together as well as I could have imagined, with a full dozen of the yoga students deciding to attend drum classes once or twice a week while I’m here. The main obstacle of having enough drums was passed last week when I accompanied half a dozen of the students into the nearest town (Thong Sala), to buy passable djembes for under $40 each.

The beach itself is perfect for swimming, with a broad crescent of white soft sand, shallow clear pale green water, and minimal wave action here on the mainland side of the island. A recent visit to the seaward side gave some challenging variety in the form of big breaking waves, but a tropical storm whipped them too high even to travel out by boat, so we had to hike back to our starting point, two hours over a steep rough trail. Amazingly, no complaints from 9-year-old Cleo on the grueling trek.

Other roads and trails nearby have taken us by foot to neighboring beaches, giving us relatively local access to groceries as well as, again, more variety of experience here – much more immediate than traveling by taxi or motorbike.

With the beaches lined by bungalows and restaurants, there is no shortage of variety in eating out . . . though the menus differ very little from place to place. There is only a subtle difference between the universally offered green, red, or coconut curries, but it’s hard to tire of these, when the result is almost always excellent, and at times absolutely transcendent. (The homemade coconut or chocolate ice cream doesn’t hurt either, or the discovery here and there of a real cappuccino). The biggest challenge on the food front is appeasing (or not) the endless restaurant obsessions of Cleo.

Yes, this is yuppie heaven all right, but heaven by any name is hardly to be argued with. If I have found the formula and means to live out my ideal 8-hour day here – 2 hours each of work, music, swimming and walking – there is no cause to complain. And that’s just the quantitative analysis of how time can be spent . . . when the true experience is timeless, and of a mysterious yet unmistakable quality, impossible to convey and equally impossible to resist.