Waking together in our Bangkok guesthouse this morning, I use my companion's washcloth glove to scrub my smelly feet. She carves papaya while I shave.
A random bird cuts through the urban noise like a revelation--unusual in this buzz of motorbikes, laundry women, taxi men, whirring fans. There is nature somewhere around, beyond or even in this sweep, sweep, sweep of the broom on packed dirt and concrete.
We untangle cords to charge our multiple devices--two phones, a tablet and a laptop, Kindle and iPod, all promising slick neuronic bliss of continual stimulation, but in reality balky, glitchy, imperfect machines of human striving. All of yesterday I attempted to get my cellular data plan working, in the end remembering the clinching move, reboot. The tablet fails to download transmissions from afar, with dodgy local Internet. The 5-star hospital, where we went to take advantage of tests on a budget, proves incapable of even the most basic step, logging in to their WiFi system. My laptop limps along with its open wound in the upper right corner, now duct-taped; its mouse and trackpad spotty, temperamental (solution: reboot).
When last here in 2008 I spent a fruitless day in Bangkok, more days on the island of Koh Phangan, wrestling with a failing device, a Blackberry, trying to squeeze a data plan out of it, to enjoy the best of both worlds. Then, too, eventually I managed to make it work, enough to check email and transfer documents. All my flood of recent business has been Asian, having finished the last big job upon leaving BC for a client in Victoria. After addressing Cowichan sweater appropriation in the Vancouver Olympics, I've been handling gender issues in street protests in Taiwan; kidney organ transplants; an application to a doctoral program in biostatistics; the pros and cons of globalization. A Korean student is praising the notion of playing with a Samsung in New Jersey. My last day on Koh Phangan back in 2008, I ran into a friend from Victoria, who handed me a hardcopy manuscript he needed an editor for. Swim globally, edit locally.
Technology, our savior and bane. The film on the plane, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, explores the topics expertly, tying together issues of good and bad motivations within each camp; impulses of revenge, bloodlust, personal glory and power, loyalty to family and tribe; animal nature and humanity, brutality and kindness. How to trust, ultimately, "the works of man"?
Yet I continue, typing on this machine of glory and doom, widening the circle of connection and inclusion, of investigation and distraction. The breath continues, bringing always the bottom line of what's real to the fore. Refusing to delve too much into mind matters, theories, prevarications.
On to the beach! One last item to buy, decent coffee to take for our week's retreat on the remote island of Koh Wai. Our bus and ferry tickets secured, we bypass the street markets and head to the tourist haven of Khaosan road, find an upscale café in a back alley run by a young Korean woman, and score 300 grams of fine Thai highland grind. Elated by our free sample espressos, we call this grace and serendipity "being in the flow."
* * *
Hard lessons today, en route to the island, in social propriety, trust and self-righteousness. Losing, in the process, my illusions about the well-oiled operations of Thai tourism, and of my own judgment in a pinch.
Arriving on the bus at Center Pier for a connection to the Laem Ngop pier, skies are balmy and our spirits are high. But the agent at the ticket desk, a portly, self-possessed Thai woman, informs us that there is a storm and our speedboat isn't running. We will have to divert to Koh Mak or Koh Chang instead for the night, a room arranged for 3-400 Baht, and take the connecting ferry from there tomorrow, another 400 Baht.
I nod, sure, no problem.
Holding up the line of backpackers bound for Koh Chang, Osnat protests: this is outrageous, we already have a room booked for the night in Koh Wai, we have paid in full to go there today!
The agent is adamant, there is storm, storm, storm madam.
I intervene, telling Osnat to sit down, calm down, I will deal with it, it's okay. Apologizing to the agent, saying no problem, we go next day, we take the other room and ferry.
Osnat demands my phone to call our resort. At first I refuse, will not speak to her or listen, until she can cool her jets... Like shutting my three-year-old daughter in her room, until the tantrum ends. Or the New World Order saying you play by our rules or we will marginalize you, brand you terrorists, wipe you out--the message of the movie on the bus, made from a Stephen Hunter political thriller. The others in the waiting room are giving me the eye. Why me?
A few more calls to the resort, and it becomes apparent that the speedboat is indeed running from Laem Ngop, there is no storm. I pull back my extra ferry payment from the desk, but am told again, still, we will have to take the detour. So I take out the phone to call once more to the resort to reconfirm, and at last the agent capitulates: Okay okay, speedboat run today, you go speedboat to Koh Wai, taxi take you now to Laem Ngop.
What was the deal? Not enough passengers, they were trying to cancel our booking with a bogus excuse? We give thanks, at least, to my working phone, providing the last word from the destination resort.
It appears Osnat was right all along, at least in her suspicious instincts bred in the Middle East, and I betrayed her with my alliance with the scammer, for the sake of my Anglo propriety, good solider. Not wanting to create a scene, I played my own role of sheepish complicity to the hilt. Not wanting to credit my partner's exaggerated perception of a problem, or worse, deception, I tagged her response as problematic. Only later recognizing, with humility, my own gullibility and rush to judgment.
After discussing all this in the morning, coming to forgiveness and resolution, we soften and walk by the jade water and white sand, on the jungle path to a private cove, and rest under the palms, content.
* * *
The storm finally arrived last night, blowing hard and raining steady, with lightning flashing in the distance over the mountains, thunder rolling. This morning the calm waves lap to shore once more, the crickets providing the constant soundtrack. Before coming awake I dreamed of a symphony of shakers.
We settle in chairs on our veranda, no neighbors on either side, the gorgeous scenery all to ourselves, the perfect sandy beach, the warm water... What more could we want? Nothing like this, right by the ocean, even in Maui. Bungalow by the sea, the dream of every bourgeois, complete with personal harem of, okay, skip the drama, one lover.
The tour boats come throughout the day to the Koh Wai Pakarang (Coral) resort, delivering their zoos of tourists from France, Russia, Germany, Australia, Britain, the US. We hang like locals, or notice it's all relative as we skirt the more remote Koh Wai Paradise next door, with its chummy expats settled in for the winter in their $200-a-month wooden shacks with no electricity. One of them, wide and shapeless, wanders down the sand, stepping but going nowhere, slow. Another, a scrawny and stooped golem, creeps over the rocks at the end of beach.
* * *
Each day we mess with the jumble of cords, in digital limbo, a severe case of device-itis. The router extender teases with its marginal boost in bandwidth, while the primary Internet feed in the resort's restaurant plays us like a yo-yo, on and off, on and off, leaving us unconnected. Nothing much else to do here but loll in the turquoise water, imagine. Power cord number three bites the dust, no matter. The waves lap at sunset, another day gone by, and it's not even Mercury retro, or is it, we can't even know without our precious connection. In the end the air is too languid, the breeze too sultry, the colors just too bloody pastel to bother with all of the networking that in northern climates we take for granted, with full-time high-speed Internet access, that we consider the normal stuff of life, of everyday business and commerce, the obligatory fabric of our contemporary society, all wired.
No surfing here... just placid jade waters over beds of dying coral, with swarms of small striped fish that creep up behind you and hardly scatter when you turn and find them all around your limbs. At first I was amazed, never having seen fish this tame, this bold, and almost wishing I could close the inch of distance they always kept around my fingers and face. Then I felt a few pecks at my back, and suddenly felt a different urge, to flee these marauding predators before they nibbled me to death. The truth, not so dire, but a warning, be careful what you wish for.
Yesterday I sat on this balcony fifty feet from the water and watched Terry Gilliam's Zero Theorem, in which a modern-day man, a functionary of the cybernetic matrix, bemoans his meaningless existence and takes refuge in virtual reality scenes at a beach just such as this. "Come away with me," his voluptuous pursuer coaxes, back in drab London, but he remains fixed to his task, the machinery of his supposed deliverance. In the end he rebels, gives it all up, but too late, and finds refuge on that ultimate sunset dream beach, alone.
The thing itself asks for no description, coaxes no boatloads of gawkers, yields not to pat snapshots and catalogues of palette choices in hexadecimal flux as the light shifts, the mood strikes. The thing itself is not amenable to autobiographical analysis, unraveling of brain-folds, sliced cells of microscopic dialogue, presumed intention and unrepentant one-upmanship, or woman.
Maybe woman is the thing itself. Maybe the thing itself is this, not that. Maybe maybe maybe, baby baby baby. The waves lap, the insects chirr, the sunlight creeps across the bay, coloring what was pale and limpid, both brighter and richer with a luminous blue.
On the otherwise praiseworthy beach, just under the frame of the capture, a three-foot jagged stump from a coconut tree protrudes, intrudes, claims an excised history in this narrative box. I will not go there; I nudge the frame just large enough to include the hacked remnant, then click.