First, I have AOL IM on my laptop now, so if you see me pop up, feel free to chat…I’m most likely to be logged on in the late evening, U.S. time (9am Thailand = 6pm US).
Nothing much to report the last few days–Khao Lak is a pretty small town, mostly a stop on the way to the Similan Islands. I’m enjoying it anyway–I’ve been a little homesick the last few days, so I’m enjoying being someplace I can buy a cheeseburger and eat spaghetti. It’s actually less homesickness than culture shock–communicating in pidgin English, not being understood, and eating strange food wears on you after awhile. So tonight I plan to eat pizza at the Italian joint, which claims to be run by an Italian. I must say, it’s really nice to be in a place where you can have conversations with people at a higher level than “Food. Chicken. How much?” (And that’s advanced English; usually it’s point and “How much?”)
On the other hand, there are worse fates than cold showers and lack of conversation; from the email I’ve been getting lately, Silicon Valley is one of them. The upside to traveling, besides the free wildlife safaris inside your bathroom (today it was a frog; last week it was giant spiders, and I’m not even counting the roaches), is that you really dont’ have to worry about anything: anything that’s happening next week is irrelevant, you can pretty much do whatever you want. In fact, you’re pretty much *forced* to live in the present; you can’t fit anything extra in your pack, and you can’t communicate well enough to plan, so you *have* to live day to day. It’s really relaxing, after the initial frustration.
(There is this Western myth that one has to plan one’s life far in advance, and that one’s life/career ought to be linear, and headed somewhere. The more I think about this, the more bogus it seems; it’s probably an outcrop of the Christian focus on the afterlife, which encourages spending one’s life planning for the future. Or maybe not; I’m not sure. It is clear to me, though, that Asian cultures have a very different view of time, and that this is probably correlated to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs in reincarnation. Life looks very different when you have infinite lives to correct things, rather than just one lifetime that determines eternity. It’s been really interesting seeing how religious philosophy/theology plus ambient weather shapes culture–I may write a short essay on that, if I get the time.)
At any rate, I’m enjoying just living day to day, without worrying about the future. This isn’t something you can do on vacation; on vacation, there’s still that sense of urgency. Even if you’ve put it out of your head, somewhere in the back of your mind the ticker is still counting: you need to be back, people are depending on you, you have deliverables, you have 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 days of vacation left. This kind of travel is totally unlike that; I’m going where I want to, I’ll turn up when I feel like it, and no one has a hold on me. This is something totally inconceivable in high-tech.
Not only does the past not hold me, tomorrow isn’t there either. There’s no point in planning, I don’t know enough about the area to make decent plans. There’s no point in worrying about abstracts, because I can’t communicate anything but immediate needs. I can’t ask if the bus leaves tomorrow–most Thai don’t speak English that well. I can only turn up, and see if it’s there. This is initially extremely frustrating. After that, it’s great…I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I don’t know if it will be two minutes or four hours until the bus appears; I only know that someone pointed me in this direction. If I wait, a bus (or a pickup-taxi, motorcycle-taxi, or train) will probably appear; it will be headed in some direction, and I’ll flag it down. Maybe it’ll go there, maybe not. I’ve got no way of knowing; I can only give them my general destination, and hope they get me there.
This sounds awful, but it’s actually fun. I don’t have to bear the burden of worrying, or planning. I don’t have to control what’s happening (it’s futile even to try). I have a general idea; it might happen, it might not; if it doesn’t happen, something else will crop up, that might be interesting. Whatever happens, it will be OK. (This is pretty close to the translation of “Mai pen rai,” Thailand’s unofficial motto.)
It does help to bring a good book, or a small project to work on while waiting for the bus. This makes patience a lot easier. 🙂
So, about scuba training: it’s been very uneventful so far. I have only two comments: first, spending ten days practicing deep breathing through your nose, then learning scuba, results in inhaling a surprising amount of water. Do your meditation retreat *after* diving! Second, if you’re taking a motorcycle taxi in a sarong, hold down *both* sides of your skirt. (OK, that probably *was* funny, if you weren’t involved. But, let’s just leave it there.)
My dive instructor, on the other hand, is worth mentioning: a tall, lithe, utterly gorgeous blonde woman named Mike. Now, in San Francisco, one would make certain natural assumptions upon meeting a woman in a crew-cut named Mike (and the thought did cross my mind, along with “Has she got a girlfriend?”), but (alas) she’s traveling with her partner, a Dutch-Canadian guy named Pete. It was amusing watching them over dinner–Pete clearly thinks she’s his wife, and she just as clearly thinks he’s her partner/SO/traveling companion. I predict interesting times in their future. Oh well.
Anyway, we did three hours of pool exercises yesterday, and watched a bunch of the PADI videos the day before. PADI videos are mostly an exercise in shameless self-promotion; fortunately, Mike agreed I could skip the rest of them (thank goodness). Tonight at 6pm the boat will pick me up, and then it’s off to the Similans. I’ll do one more set of confined-water exercises in the sea off the island, and then it’s off for two days of supervised diving, then two days of regular diving. I’m really looking forward to it, though I’m miffed that I can’t get an underwater camera. Apparently the dive company’s last two underwater cameras both got ruined last week, and there aren’t any others in town.
But, that’s probably not a bad thing–it means I’ll get to see things while diving, instead of thinking compositionally–and they will have a professional videographer with the boat, so maybe I can use some of the stills. And if I really want to, of course, I can always come back later.
OK, it’s nearly noon and I’m hungry–so it’s off to the Italian place for some pizza or ravioli, then to the market in Ban Niang, to look around, and maybe see if they have beads for my shawl.
Tien P.S. Why does tourist kitsch look the same all around the world? I suspect convergent evolution…you think I could get NSF grant money to study it? 🙂