Thailand, January-February, 2015
once again, February is approaching… once again, it seems imperative to safeguard my sanity by escaping the Large Grey City in this the downswing of the cycle of the seasons… whither away? ponder, scan, fantasize… too much choice can destroy you.
Phil downstairs also planning to get away, says, “dear lord, it’s so complicated getting ready, it’s almost not worth it.”
how i started to feel myself.
wisdom: do not think about all this when you are tired; fresh start, fresh morning, coffee… research, discuss.
Phil-the-Green: “did you know, by the way, for a lot of these countries, your passport has to have six months’ remaining validity from the date of landing?”
no, i did not know. i look at my passport: expires in July. i would’ve thought that was ample time: i’m only planning on going for a month. but who am i to quibble with bureaucracy? if i am planning on being away from February anyway, could i maybe just leave two weeks earlier, comply with this regulation that way?
and so this year, it’s 6 weeks instead of the customary 4 escaping to the sun.
and, after all the considerations, Thailand appears to win the prize.
haven’t really been there for a long, long time.
and it fulfils the specifications: affordable, peaceful, quiet, life on a beach, with all my art materials around me. after a lifetime of travelling, i am not possessed of a huge compulsion to see new horizons, temples, towns, mountain ranges… one quiet, peaceful place by the waves and the breeze sounds like heaven to me.
and so, initially a few days with friends in Bangkok, taking in the sights and sites around the city.
i then move a couple of hours south on the west coast of the Gulf of Thailand, down to the peaceful town of Cha’am.
to be honest, at first i hadn’t the faintest idea where i was, this is a little embarrassing to say. but, through the kindness of my friends, i got a lift there, a place to stay, and i just went with the flow (shades of being a hitchiking kid back in the day: you took the ride that came along).
i did try to look on the iphone map, but these things are extremely small scale: it was hard to get a perspective.
my friends took me there, and then took off. and there i was. by myself, unknown place, no language, and knowing nobody. and it was fine. it was lovely, peaceful and exciting.
and, unbelievably, the first place i’m at is a 25-storey condominium building: i couldn’t believe it. the previous years of beach life have been in bamboo huts, guesthouses, etc. here i am in this giant, towering cement monolith… definitely a bit of a culture shock at first. however, play it as it lays.
one thing that was odd: the place was deserted. there was nobody there. i couldn’t believe it. overwhelming association with The Shining, the Jack Nicholson, haunted hotel situation. i saw nobody, just the staff behind the counter in the huge, posh lobby. how bizarre. who owns this place?
aye, well. i found a rhythm. up in the morning, COFFEE. table on balcony, gazing for miles along the coast, and do some writing. it worked out to be three spontaneous, flowing, unplanned pages per morning, followed by an effort at focused, disciplined writing on a piece with a proper beginning, middle and end… this based on a mad adventure i had back in dissipated youth, whilst living in the red light district of Bangkok… those were the days.
after six pages per morning, and, i shudder to say, perhaps six coffees, it was time to go down to the pool, do all my morning yoga and exercises, swim, shower, and then head out onto the beach.
the fun of exploring a new turf… i headed towards the town proper, looking at it all as i walked by wondering, What is this? what is this?
and i ended up finding my proper place.
on the Gulf of Thailand, there is a beach.
on the beach, there is a village.
in the village, there is a restaurant.
in this restaurant, there is a table.
at this table, for a cheerful, happy, long duration, there was me…
and Lo, i settled in… a tiny little village scene there, the little businesses alongside, the people, the visitors, the Thais, the Westerners, the little kids, the little businesses on scooters coming up and down the tiny strip…
the fresh breeze coming off the Gulf of Thailand, the sun, coffee, juice, and an infinite supply of seafood there, and i became part of the community.
“you stay there at that table,” the Head Lady, Dang, said to me…
i was the de facto greeter of the place, saying hello to all the Western visitors who came along. they always came to look at what i was drawing, talked to me, came back again, became regulars… it was a cheerful place and that lady was a good cook: My Headquarters.
and from there, the journey became one onto paper, writing and drawing 8-10 hours a day, which had been my stated goal whilst heading off to Asia this time. and i did it.
inevitably, i had taken more projects than i was ever going to be able to do, but i did work on perspective, lettering, watercolour and still lifes. and i wrote a good 150 pages… of what quality the good lord only knows, but the pen did keep dancing on the paper.
all in all, it was pretty much a perfect time.
it was surprising how much communication could take place without a language in common. i became cheerful, good friends with the ladies working in the restaurant. they would come and sit with me when it was quiet, and there was a lot of comment through raised eyebrows, chuckles, indications… i would very much have liked to have had some Thai language, but what can i say? they did have some English, some of them, good for them. a bunch of cheerful, feisty characters.
as everywhere else i’ve ever been in Asia, the kids come on over and join in with the artwork. utterly hypnotised, wonderful to see. inspiring for me. their lack of inhibition, their energy, their slashing and dashing onto the paper… the girls could be so delicate and precise, the boys had bold monsters coming out of the crayons… it was fun.
started to meet other travellers, although this was by no means a major thoroughfare, rather a quiet backwater, there were some very nice people to meet.
Niklas and his girlfriend Tine from Sweden took me to the famous Bat Cave just outside of town, where at sundown quite literally a million bats poured out of a mountain for a night out in the great world.
we must have watched the stream pour out for a full twenty minutes.
this must have been going on for, how many thousand years?
we meandered up and down the beach. it became a little hobby to try to find the best prices on the seashells for sale. that became a little hobby to be doing while there. it was the place to get them. magnificent, big specimens, a marvel of nature’s architecture.
walking and jogging up and down the beach, there must have been millions of much smaller seashells and other bits of flotsam to admire.
i always came back with a handful of the most interesting specimens on which i would practice my still life skills during that day’s drawing.
i did my yoga stretches every day with the waves washing right over my feet. i swam twice a day and did a bit of a run. waves, current, breeze, sun, it was bliss. i stood there, gazing out at all of this, and wished i could take some of it home, to bring out let us say an hour back in dark, cold, rainy England. haven’t figured out how to do it yet… save in memory…
there were one or two moments of absolute bliss: some kind of unity with the infinite summers of childhood… blue sky, white clouds.
Jörg and his wife, from Germany, came along and settled in, became companions for exploring markets, the town and the beach.
the pleasure of shared experiences. browsing and shopping… leading finally to the pleasure of unpacking one’s bag at home and fitting in all the treasures to the installation that composes owl art studio.
at short notice, it became time to move out of the condominium – the actual owner needed it back suddenly – and i used the newfangled Thai Translator on my iPhone to say, Hey, i need a new place for tomorrow! that’s when the head cook in precisely six minutes, came up with the room just beside the restaurant, upstairs, beautiful, including balcony looking at the waves. she said, “you stay here at this table, i get room for you at Thai price, not Western price.” i felt part of the scene.
and the days went by… the pleasure of everything staying the same. a comfortable, peaceful pattern.
and the weeks went by…
and finally, it was time to move on. it was truly sad.
but such is Life.
(later, back in London, Tim said, “could you go and live there?” and i said, “born a country boy, i made it to the heart of the Big City as soon as i could and i’ve lived my whole life in the metropolis. i need the buzz and the action.” it was wonderful for a while, but i think i’d feel left out if i was away from the main artery of life.)
it was back up to Bangkok, the big city… a monument to the hig rise, to cement, to the overpass, to the freeway, o god… and the next day, flew north, up to Changmai for an extended weekend, to take in the NA Thai Convention.
stayed in the wonderfully named Nice Mum Lodge where i became friends with the proprietor and his family. the gentleman had, unfortunately, been shot in the head by some lunatic carjacker some time before, and was consequently slightly hemiplegic: i was able to contribute some healing skills, treatment and exercise to counterbalance the situation. ah, Life.
i was the Saturday morning speaker at the Convention, all went well, i knew a lot of people from having been the Saturday night speaker two years previously when it was in Pattaya – wonderful to connect with everybody again. lots of coffee, lots of sharing, lots of listening… and lots of strolling around the markets of this different area of Thailand up in the low hills, near the Burmese border.
different things to ponder and sometimes purchase.
finally, on the Monday, flew back to Bangkok in the early, early morning (i got up at 5am). Wednesday 4th, headed back to England.