Yes to everything: Thailand Part Two (very rough draft chapter for book)
I’d even thought of saying to M about the anthem (in Thailand they play the national anthem in public places and everyone stands up), and certainly I’d vowed to be more aware of my surroundings… But lost in conversation with M I didn’t notice the anthem and everyone standing up. M and I were at a cafe upstairs, my husband had gone downstairs to find a shop, he said he could see us just chatting away, totally oblivious.
I dragged myself away from the feeling of burning shame, it was an accident, I was totally absorbed in conversation. I decided to let myself off, we were at train station with backpacks, we would have looked like we’d just arrived and didn’t know. I was actually looking at language learning with M, trying to do my best to be a good tourist! I do have to focus on things, I struggle to read a menu whilst someone is talking to me, or to talk and pay attention to directions. I can be engaged in conversation and completely oblivious to what’s going on around me. Good for the person and the conversation, can cause occasional glitches, like this one.
As well as panic buying snacks from the 7/11 for the journey, packets of crisps, pastries and something chocolatey called Euro Rolls, we went to eat a meal before getting on the train. In the restaurant we met a young British man, he said of Thailand, ‘It feels safe; I didn’t think I would but I do.’
Is this how I felt in India? But then to come to Thailand and realise that maybe I didn’t? Or is it just that Thailand provides such an elevated level of comfort? Was this our reward for five months of India? And for thinking India was fine, which it was, but Thailand, oh my God I felt so safe, so easy, so at ease…
It’s like its all laid on for tourists. They even make the beds for you on the train. The seats are soft anyway and then they put a mattress on top and then they put the sheet on. There’s a lovely blanket in a bag, white with square raised bits, like a towel but soft, warm to the touch, it holds the warmth of your body and is big enough to really wrap yourself in and cover your feet right up.
The upper beds are a bit smaller, but the lower ones are almost big enough for two. So cosy, plenty of space, and there was even three little mini metal pegs that fold out from the wall to hang your stuff on.
The train was full of Westerners and we met a nice Irish man who was travelling with his wife and young son. A lovely friendly woman member of staff taught us Thai and took our orders for breakfast.
As usual I was too excited to sleep, and sat up writing in my little cubicle long after M and my husband had gone to sleep.
The train arrived early the next morning, and after a coach, a ferry and a taxi, we arrived in Haad Rin, Koh Phangan.
There were lots of healthy looking dogs of all different breeds, medium-small, fluffy, Golden Retriever types, but many with a ridge, even small fluffy dogs that were not like Ridgebacks at all. We saw a woman on a white bicycle with two dogs balanced on her lap/the handlebars, and two dogs in metal crate like side car. Dogs sat on the top of the two tier round white tables that were often outside shops.
We saw what looked to us like a giant cat stretched out long and fluffy on a table. We saw a woman entering a shop, pick up cat, squeeze it to her and kiss it, she did this three times. Where we were staying we saw cats held like babies, being carried back to staff’s room, ‘My cat.’ One sturdy, whiteish, one orange with bright eyes, one Siamese with a collar with a plastic bow and a name tag; all well fed and healthy. The orange cat visited us for an hour while we played cards and was fed banana cake left over from the train, all we had. At night we often heard the meowing and fighting of the various cats.
Most of the staff were from Myanmar/Burma, we should have learned Burmese not Thai. One of the staff sounded like a cockney. ‘I copy Danny Dyer, he’s my favourite actor,’ he said, and he and my husband discussed Danny Dyer films. One of the staff showed me their tattoo, ‘It means freedom, I used not to have freedom, but now I do.’ We played pool with one of the Burmese reps, he coached me and M.
We went to the party beach: little plastic buckets of alcohol and mixers with straws, loads of handwritten signs on neon card saying f***ing and c***. Is that what we sound like? We went to the Cactus Bar: a group of Burmese men and boys did amazing fire club displays, twirling, throwing them to each other, they were really good. The trees nearby were covered in lights flowing down, and when we went for a walk on the beach it all looked very nice. There were people doing UV body painting, sitting in the sand in front of big colourfully decorated screens. Beach sellers came round with fake flower garlands, light up ears, inexplicable toy monkeys in bright neon colours, and even more mysterious, Connect 4. All the bar staff were from Burma, our barman showed us pictures of his girlfriend who was from Belgium. The music was a mix of ‘inappropriate given there were little kids present;’ good; and cheesy- they played YMCA in the middle of it all. An old black dog wandered about the dance floor. The staff organised balloon games and a terrifying looking but actually okay game of fire limbo with the little kids. We had cocktails, the menu making a pretty list, Mai Tai and Butterfly and Black Russian; Sex on the Beach and Tequila Sunrise.
Waiting for 2am, our agreed time, feeling tired… At the table next to me, a woman’s foot, no nail polish, half buried in the sand. The sand so soft it felt unreal, as if shipped in, but couldn’t be, the beach is so big. Seeing my blue ring, like the room in Chennai, thinking, ‘Every moment on earth is a blessing,’ simultaneously noticing a light out at sea, one of the boats, ‘Every moment you’re alive is a blessing.’ Lots of lights but I picked just one.
There was a swimming pool where we were staying but it was often busy. We found a swimming pool further along the beach, up some steps, part of a restaurant and rooms resort that was practically empty. We ate at the restaurant and asked if we could use the pool, which was usually deserted.
Walking along the beach to the pool, monsoon clouds, the sea all different colours, green, dark blue, pale blue in patches. The beach was full of driftwood, one piece was big, worn pale, with lots of branches, beautiful. There were piles of small pieces of darker driftwood, gathered ready to burn. Lots of broken glass including terrifying broken bottles, jagged ends up, and old coconuts, dark brown coconut leaves huge like branches, and plastic bottles.
The swimming pool below the restaurant was surrounded by fake boulders, and the complex was done out like a fake temple. Grey fake stone doors led to toilets outside near the pool. There was a sink outside, in the open air. The water came out of the tap warm; there was always one or two white blossoms in the sink and standing there you looked down at the beach and the sea. There was an outside shower with a faux stone mermaid; I used to always think someone was standing there as I swam.
The three of us went swimming together, practicing strokes, doing tricks and just enjoying the water totally unselfconsciously. Family at its best are people you can just be yourself with, and be forgiven.
What do you do when everyone else is drinking cocktails, you ordered iced coffee cos you have a blog to write? Take a sip. When they can’t drink theirs and offer to you, even though you ordered iced coffee cos you have a blog to write? Take a bit more than a sip, even though don’t really want to, but don’t finish them. (Like the potion!) Return to room when all back, start blog, and keep writing until it’s the end, after everyone else asleep…
Lying on my back after yoga. ‘Why do I feel so bad about everything?’ White light above me. ‘It’s your programming.’
Tired after working hard on blog and posting it. Took a walk break by myself, to decompress, relax my body before sitting, and socialising, at dinner. On the beach. ‘Enjoying yourself can be its own religion.’ I thought of my husband. Day off tomorrow. I got back to room, my husband was listening to this song on YouTube, ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think; Enjoy yourself,while you’re still in the pink; Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!’
I thought I’d try, maybe get a short skirt and a top, or a dress, to wear in Thailand at least. The man in the shop didn’t seem all that friendly, and then when I picked something up and asked to try it on he shook his head and said no, meaning that it wouldn’t fit. I picked up a couple of other items. How about this? How about this? No, no, he said half laughing. It didn’t even seem like he would even let me try anything on, so I left. Okay, I thought, this is one of those not so nice experiences, but let’s not make it worse than it is.
On the way back there was an, albeit more expensive shop, with a friendly Burmese shop assistant and a European manager. I had a brief look and then said, have you got stuff to fit me, and told her what had happened, oh no, that’s mean, no, we have European sizes, come tomorrow. I couldn’t face doing anything more that day.
Just before my husband left to take my step daughter back, we were having last minute anxieties about our booking choices, as we had a friend from the UK coming out after my step daughter went home and we wanted to make sure where we were staying was suitable as well as not too expensive. The more we thought about it the harder it seemed to be to make a decision. ‘First world problems, where to stay on this luxury island, and how much to spend per night, £10 or £12,’ my husband said, grounding us.
We booked a few more nights in the same place to give us some time, and decided to all go choose somewhere when they got back. The place where we were staying said we might have to move rooms for the extra bit, and asked us to come and choose the one we wanted. (We’d paid for a fan room, and been given an ac room, with the ac turned off. If they sold the ac room, we’d need to move.) The ac rooms were also bigger and nicer. In the middle of this, my husband’s taxi arrived and he had to go, leaving the final decision to me.
Ahh, anxiety, responsibility! I was shown around the fan rooms by Danny Dyer and picked one, the biggest. But when I got back to my room, I thought, did I check the beds properly? Our friend had a bad back, and so does my husband sometimes; what if the beds are uncomfortable? I went into a cold sweat. I lay on the bed, paralysed. I even cried. Then I stopped, I went for a walk; I remembered what I had decided: Be more aware, and if you haven’t, rectify it, if you can.
The first time I walked past the office. The second time I went in and asked could I just look at the rooms again, I was in a hurry before and I don’t know if I checked them properly. No problem, of course. Both sets of beds felt exactly the same; my decision was ok.
Back at the room I did a long, proper- as in mindful, into it deeply- yoga session, then healing, then accidental nap.
I beat myself up about not going swimming, ‘What have I even done today,’ but so tired, hence low mood, maybe PMS? I ask for time alone but it is dangerous. I pulled myself together and went for dinner. The onsite restaurant had little bells on each table to ring for service. I disliked doing this, but it only made it worse. I’d wait for someone to come, be fearful that no one was coming. Plus I often used the space for writing, which was fine, but meant that they didn’t always know if I wanted food or not. The next morning I was hopelessly self conscious at breakfast, loads of people near loud, I felt invisible, people pouring in, not ringing bell, confusion re ordered or not, who coming to take order…
It was a weird place to be alone, a party/couples/young people holiday place by myself for four days: a bit sad and lonely but safe, with the nice staff and an easy environment, and a good opportunity for writing, yoga, swimming, I told myself.
I spent the first night in a state of anxiety about spiders, having had one only a couple of nights before. I stayed out in the evening and kept the light off so I wouldn’t see anything. The second night I heard people coming back at 3am and being sick, and sick again in the morning. Even once my fear about spiders had subsided a bit I still couldn’t sleep.
The next day I tidied up and asked for the room to be cleaned, to reduce risk of spiders, writing in the restaurant while it was being done. A nice waiter told me about what its like during the Full Moon Party (the night my husband and friend would be back), more people come every day, this whole place full, kitchen forgets food orders… ahhh. ‘Crying, lost phones, we tell them, don’t take out, don’t take card, just take enough for how many drinks you have but…’ Not looking forward to that AT ALL.
Every day I made lists and stuck to them, yoga, sort out and take laundry, go for breakfast, write, swim, lunch, town, hair… Stick with the plan, the to do list, if not happy at least satisfied… Get up early, do yoga, collect laundry, tidy room, empty bins, go shopping, WordPress, yoga, hang up clothes, unpack stuff shoved in backpack while room cleaned, made space for J, breakfast, writing, walk, swim, writing, dinner…
To the swimming pool cafe, the wind and the rain got up whilst I was there, the staff rolled down the clear plastic at the sides of the covered but open sided ‘indoor’ eating area. I ordered french fries, got more than I could eat, and a pot of Liptons tea. There were a few other tourists, young Westerners, couples. I read my notes, organising my work, conceptualising it, feeling that it was okay. I had some social anxiety, which was better the next time I went, I ate lovely Pad Thai made specially for me with tofu, it was sunny and I ate it outside.
At the swimming pool, thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to be a successful writer and have a swimming pool. But I am writing every day and I am at a pool, which I have to myself. ‘I have everything already.’
Getting into being alone at the same time as looking forward to them coming.
Orange cat came by in the evening and was still there after I came back from dinner, as if keeping me company. I tried everything to sleep, all the exercises I know. The only thing that really helped me was thinking about the little orange cat sitting outside on the bench, like a talisman.
Two young Irish women who had looked after M on her last night, been dancing with her whilst we sat outside, chatted with me about travelling after breakfast one day and invited me for a drink in the evening. I’d said maybe, thinking I wouldn’t want to, then as the day wore on, thought why not? But when it came to it they were in a group with some young guys. I thought they wouldn’t want to see me, so I walked past, eyes down. ‘You’re not the kind of person people want to spend time with.’ Ringing in my thoughts. But I didn’t want to make small talk with a group of drunk people, I only wanted to chat soberly and with just them. I’m a control freak too, as well as not always being very nice.
I read a post on WordPress about, ‘You may have noticed how it’s easier to criticise yourself than have other people do it.’ That’s what ‘internalising the negative messages’ actually means. After twenty years in mental health I only just understood that.
Bethany Kays posted on her blog on WordPress about how it was much harder to be mindful without her husband present, about how she’d wanted some mindful photography alone time but found that she was afraid without him there and that was distracting. Bethany has real things to be afraid of, alligators, spooked wild horses, and uses a wheelchair. My fears were all in my mind, but still, I recognised the timing of this post.
DSFB had been getting very deep and I was struggling to absorb his message. I wish he would explain his philosophy more simply, I thought, and he did: ‘Try and be fulfilled; Be nice to people; Enjoy what’s in front of you.’
After two nights I realised I could watch Netflix. I mean I knew that, but I forget to enjoy myself, I think only of writing and anything that might need to be done, forgetting that in the evening I could watch something. I mean if my husband is there I’m with him so that’s taken care of, we’ll spend time together or watch something that he will have downloaded and organised for me.
Anyway, I spent the third and fourth evenings sitting out on the balcony with the cat, watching stuff on my tablet.
‘That looks like my kind of evening,’ my neighbour said returning to get ready to go out, looking as if she’d rather stay in, me with my feet propped up on the table. ‘I’ve even got a cat,’ I said. And the battery lasted right up until the end, then died seconds after it* finished.
I went to the office to see if we had to move rooms or not, she said yes. I quickly packed up, she’d said ten minutes. But I wasn’t sure we’d understood each other. I went back. ‘You can stay.’ Maybe she’d misunderstood me and thought I’d wanted to move, maybe she’d had a think and rearranged some bookings. I went back and unpacked again. The fan rooms we were offered were fine, but this was much better! I was so glad I checked. This was one of those times when I got it right. Packing, unpacking, back and forth to the office, I was very hot, but happy, and looking forward to them coming.
I went back to the shop that wouldn’t serve me and bought some gold hoop earrings. It was part pragmatism, it was the only place where I’d seen cheap earrings, and part wanting a do over. I didn’t want that every time I walked past or thought of that shop or that man it would be about that not so nice day. Now it was of him smiling as I paid for the earrings, me sitting on the little step outside, unwrapping them, putting them in, me happy with my new haircut and blow-dry, the first time I’d had my hair blow dried for months. Afterwards buying a pack of cigarettes and some strawberry coloured lipbalm from the 7/11. Returning home, ordering a beer- at not quite 12 o’clock- and taking it back to the balcony. Happily waiting for my husband and our friend to arrive, listening to Prince and co playing While my guitar gently weeps, putting on my pink lipbalm and my kohl from India, making mild smoky eyes…
(*Anne with and E two episodes second night. First night finished off last episode of Thirteen Reasons Why Season Two, and watched all the discussions afterwards. Apparently the awful stuff depicted is happening in American High Schools every day. I know my stepdaughter and her friends didn’t like it because they couldn’t believe things would be that bad and that relentlessly bad, because their school in London isn’t like that, or not as far as they know anyway. And that the legal stuff is accurate, without giving away spoilers.)
Thank you very much for reading
In Tokyo, having a very interesting time. I have met up with B, writer and fellow blogger I met via WordPress and we have been discussing the big questions! Here until Monday then back to India- and my husband!