Category Archives: surat thani

Thailand – A Sensory Massage

So, after eighteen months of globe-trotting, taking in three continents and many more countries, now en route to Taiwan, I find myself back in Suratthani. My home for over a year, I grew to love this sleepy, unpretentious little town more than I could have imagined and damn, it’s good to be back. For the past week and a half I’ve been intending to write this post but I’ve been lulled into inaction by the soporific blend of comfort and sensory massage which has welcomed me home.

Every one of my senses has been treated since leaving the cold, grey shores of the People’s Republic Of Scotia and returning to the Land Of Smiles. My vision was the first to be assaulted – from the second I disembarked in Bangkok there were explosions of colour all around me. No more monochrome skies and dull sandstone architecture, now it was all vibrant hues drenching me wherever I cast my gaze. From the fruit stalls to the pink taxis, from extravagant displays adorning Siam Paragon to the ubiquitous advertising banners draped over every storefront, it was like walking through a rainbow. The sky sealed the deal for me, an intensely blue canopy covering Thailand and keeping it safe from the outside world, such a unique, perfect, pure shade it’s almost an eighth colour in itself.

Almost simultaneously I noticed the auditory transition, the aggressive bludgeoning of my native tongue (Scots, that is) slyly replaced by the rapid-fire tonality of Thai. The language which confounded me when I first hit these shores in 2009 now sounds so welcoming, so pleasantly familiar, that I’m angry at myself  for not keeping up with my own burgeoning linguistic skills. And of course there’s the music – the endless K-pop derivatives and blasphemous lounge-jazz classic rock covers which managed to worm their way into my heart. Yes I complain about the music here but there’s nonetheless something strangely comforting about singing along to a slice of pop cheese when you don’t even understand the lyrics, let alone know if you’re even making the right noises.

Taste and smell, so closely linked, received their treatments at the same time, passing the first street-food vendor I met. Words can’t describe the wonder of real Thai cooking – by which I mean Thai food cooked in Thailand using authentic, fresh Thai ingredients. The smells have me salivating instantly, indescribable aromas which set my stomach to rumble mode – and set my eyes to watering depending on the amount and species of chili used. I’ve been choosing my meals carefully, making sure to revisit my old haunts and favourite dishes while I have the chance – my daily staple of khao krapraw muu kai dao from the bridge restaurant, larb muu, muu daa deaw and khao niaw from the isan place on Donnok and, of course, my post-weights-session reward of Crack Chicken ™ on Karunrat. I hear Taiwan plays host to even tastier Chinese food than you find in China itself but it’s got a lot to live up to for someone coming from this culinary paradise.

The tactile difference in being here can be at times more subtle but also much more dramatic than the other senses. On leaving the airport I felt myself wrapped in two comfort blankets, both of which I’d dearly missed during a three-month Winter sojourn in Scotland, Canada and the Mid-West. Namely, the glorious, constant, life-affirming heat, and the ever-present humidity which can be the bane of new arrivals but which is missed the instant you enter drier climes.

It’s more than meteorological though, and more than just physical feelings. It’s the inner feelings that make all the difference, that confirm the rightness of my choice to make this land my home for a year and to return as soon as I had the chance. They don’t call this the Land Of Smiles for nothing. After a sleeper train from Bangkok to Surat and a bus from the station into town I donned my bulging rucksack and made the short walk along Donnok to my former home. I don’t exaggerate in the slightest when I say that almost every single shopkeeper on that road greeted me with smiles, laughter and exclamations of “You’re back!”, “Where you go?”, “Not seen you long time!”. People I’d not exchanged more than a few words with over the course of a year suddenly treated me like a long-lost son after just a few months absence. Returning to see actual friends, farang and Thai alike, was even more welcoming – night-long chats with Joy, Alex telling me I have to come and drink outside his shop every night, catching up with former colleagues, it’s been non-stop in an exhausting but thoroughly wonderful way.

Even the simplest of things – suddenly having three or four weeks in one place, allowing me to join a gym for a non-extortionate period of time – has made a world of difference to my outlook. After three months of sedentary living, over-eating, nicotine and alcohol I was putting on weight, feeling lethargic and occasionally threatening to lapse back into old ways of thinking, dark ways I’d left behind a long time ago. No more though, I’m back at my old gym, slowly getting my body back into some semblance of shape, just ran my first 10km in god-knows how long and feeling on top of the world for it.

I can’t say this loudly or often enough. Forget spending money on bullshit hippy new-age medicines and the like – frickin’ homeopathy, astrology, whatever – ditch all the self-help books, untangle yourself from whatever web of responsibilities you’ve been weaving for yourself since you left school and get moving. Get to Thailand, or Vietnam, or Ghana, or Chile, or wherever calls you the loudest. Treat your senses, your body, your spirit/soul if you believe in such things – treat them to change, to a new world, to refreshing experiences. Revive them, revitalise them (dammit, I sound like a shampoo commercial now) before they start to decay beyond repair.

Choose life. Choose freedom. Choose travel. Choose sipping ice coffees in the jungle just minutes from your home while telling your friends back home what they’re missing in the Land Of Smiles…

You danced…

(Another notebook entry – Reggae Bar, KL, 17th Nov 2010)

When exactly, which night, did we really first meet? It embarrasses me, shames me utterly, that I can’t dredge it back up, rescue the memory from the haze of alcohol and sleep deprivation which marked my arrival in your world. Big’s quiz? Rob’s party? Honestly, it could have been either of these or neither.

There’s one memory that stays with me though, constantly replaying like  an old movie clip inside my head. After a year I still remember the precise moment, that golden, wonderful instant, when you plucked my heart from my chest and tucked it into your pocket, a keepsake not stolen but joyously surrendered.

Dates are meaningless, it’s the events they encompass which give them substance, and that night we celebrated Dylan’s birthday. Not that the name ‘Dylan’ held any significance back then, my fellow travellers at that time were just nebulous concepts, yet to morph into more concrete realities; she was ‘firebrand dreads girl’ while you existed as ‘pretty, tall American girl’. My assignations then were crude but, I hope, meaningful. Accordingly, the invitation came out of the blue and, I must admit, I hesitated like a child stuck in a strange, new social situation, unsure of the correct protocol and terrified of making a mistake, but something inside moved me to say yes.

The majority of the night? It’s gone, a helpless victim both of the ubiquitous liquor of that interval and to the bullying of more powerful memories, the memory of that split second which transformed my life, gave me purpose and elevated my existence to an altogether higher plane. Something happened, something which forever altered everything.

You danced.

It’s that simple. We were in Bang-Ruk, claiming what would become our rightful status of ‘token farang’. I was shy, painfully self-aware, terrified of further injuring my already near-terminal self-esteem with some clunky, unsophisticated display in front of my new, young, hip peers. My bruised ego, still paralysed from recent beatings, froze me into distant, fearful isolation at the edge of the dance floor.

But you?

You danced, and instantly I knew life as I had never known it before. There was no hesitation, only motion; you threw yourself into the rhythm with an abandon, a shameless passion such that I never knew existed. Your sublime, sculpted body was no mere vehicle, the music magically transforming your elegant frame into a pure expression of every beat pulsing through you. Your lithe limbs whipped every which way, at the same time masterfully controlled yet with a life of their own, snapping out like snares and trapping more of my soul with every twist.

Underneath it all, the foundation on which the entrancing, enticing display existed, lay that expression which became nothing less than the very reason for my existence. Your eyes blazed, possessed of a heavenly fire which no mortal circumstance could ever hope to extinguish. With every gyration conspiring to bring them into contact with mine I felt something primal stir deep within, feelings I had believed long dead, never again to be revived. And then there was  your smile. My god, I could spend the rest of eternity vainly grasping at words yet never come close to describing its devastating power. So full of joy, beaming your love of life around the room like a floodlight of sheer exuberance; pure, open and honest, existing entirely in and for that heartstopping, world-changing moment.

In that one beautiful instant time stopped for me, the ugly, cynical reality I had built around myself seemed to crumble and I was changed forever, altered beyond recognition by the siren call of your dance. Like a beacon of beauty, a perfect flame of inspiration, you melted away my cynicism, burned away self-loathing and incinerated every doubt and vindictive thought I had ever entertained. In that second I was cleansed, I was pure and life, after all this time, was good.

Did you know what you were doing? Was there any inkling of the sublime radiance you were emitting? Were you aware for even a second that with a mere foolish dance you had utterly enslaved this poor boy?

Now fate has conspired against me yet again, mocking my happiness and stealing my joy, and there’s every chance I’ll never know the answer to those questions, but there’s one thing I do know. That is that I have no regrets and never will, that I completely and irretrievably lost myself to your dance and that I would never, ever, have it any other way.

What am I doing?

Note – This is the first in a series of posts from my notebook. I’ve recently discovered the cathartic power writing can have so I keep a Moleskin in my pocket and let the words flow whenever I feel the urge. The writing brings the feelings to the surface and I hope the act of posting will release them into the ether, the harmful ones to dissipate and the joyous ones to be shared and find other minds. Also I’m terrified of losing the book  after a friend’s experience, so this blog is acting as my backup. I’m not really looking for an audience with these, not announcing them on Facebook, but if you stumble upon them I hope you take something from it. Even if it’s just thinking “holy fuck, he can’t write for shit…”. If you do like them I’ll be categorising them as ‘journal’.

The slow, painful countdown has begun. In 16 hours (less now) I leave South-East Asia, my home for over a year – but god, it seems forever – and return temporarily to the grim reality, the cold, grey streets of Edinburgh. Thoughts are cascading through my brain, jostling for attention like demanding children, the most persistent, vocal and irritating being “, the hell are you doing?” This one mantra, careening around my consciousness, clanging its cymbals like some demented, perpetual-motion, clockwork toy.

How do I answer? What justification can I give for telling the puppy-eyed, innocent child inside that there’s no Santa Claus and then stealing all his sweets? I’ve got to be tough and above all I’ve got to be honest; this was always a one-year deal and I knew that from the beginning. Some sixteen months ago I made myself a solemn promise, swore an oath that I would not get tied down to the first place I laid my head. Settle down, find my bearings, establish a warm, fuzzy comfort zone and before I know it life is passing me by again; it’s an old pattern and my promise was a tether, a safety line securing me to reality.

Then why the problem? To use a worn cliche, “you don’t know man, you weren’t there”. My mind boggles at everything I have experienced since crashing headlong into this land of surprise and smiles. Rutger Hauer’s monologue at the end of Blade Runner worms its way into the theatre of my thoughts – “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…” – only my personal version is all the more powerful to me because every last second was real, experienced by a real human being, me.

I’ve trekked through tropical jungles, scaled marble mountains, bathed in the greenest oceans and showered in towering waterfalls. I’ve been scorched and blistered by a naked, vicious, unforgiving sun, soothed and cooled by monsoon rains and lulled to sleep by violent yet strangely comforting storms. I’ve kept company with the strangest creatures, from monkeys to geckos, lumbering bull elephants to entrancing fluorescent algae. My tastebuds have been assaulted by flavours ranging from delicate to divine, subtle to satanic, and under siege from salted sweets and sugared soups. My eyes have feasted on azure skies and kaleidoscopic flora, on architecture from the regal to the ramshackle, and on some of the most alluring, sensual and enchanting women (and, I must admit, former men) to grace this planet.

And throughout it all, a constantly changing stream of companions, friendships in flux all around. I now proudly count among my acquaintances denizens of every corner of this globe. Most are no more than the most casual of contacts, fellow drifters thrust by the tides of circumstance onto the same shore, but transient or not they are welcome at my door (wherever that may be) any time they please. Other encounters blossomed into deep and lasting friendships which will endure any break and span any distance, and to these souls I am eternally indebted for allowing me to share the past year. And then there are my Thai friends, those who welcomed me into their country, their town, their homes, always with open arms and honest hearts. I truly leave a piece of myself behind with them.

This year defied expectation and belief. It has affected profound changes deep within me, altering and refreshing my jaded outlook on the world, life, work, other people and, most significantly, myself. It has seen me fall deeply, insanely in love, sacrifice my strongest principles to sustain it and start slowly crawling out of the pit of rejection on the other side. Most importantly it has seen me rediscover a sense of purpose, a feeling of worth and connection with the world around me and an overwhelming love of life.

This year was the year, the one to redefine everything before and shape everything after. But time moves on, a promise is a promise and new experiences loom ever larger on the horizon. What am I doing? I’m looking forward.

(Written at Petronas Towers, Matahari Lodge and Reggae Bar, KL – 17th and 18th Nov, 2010)

Miss or no miss

Okay, despite how it may sound from the title this post is not about Em and I, you can go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief. This morning I left Thailand after 14 and a half glorious months with a mixture of motions coursing through my body and wreaking havoc with my brain – the sadness at wrenching myself from my home with no return ticket, the emptiness that comes from being single again after such a long, glorious time, the apprehension at my now blank future and what it may hold, but at the same time anticipation at what lies around the corner.

And it’s because of this anticipation that I’m writing now. It was truly the first wholly positive emotion I’ve felt in a week, the first glimmer of hope that something within me is starting to see through the sadness. I’m going to grab onto it with every ounce of strength I have, use it to guide me through a few days alone in an alien city and nurture it in the hopes that its blooms will disguise and eventually displace my weaker, more negative feelings.

So, how is this sudden sunbeam of optimism going to manifest itself? The tantalising first few lines of a literary masterpiece to confound and dazzle generations to come? A masterfully crafted poem expressing my love, regret and newfound optimism in stanzas fit for Byron or Burns?

Well, not quite, it’s just a list of what I will and won’t miss about Thailand. Fuck you, it’s a start. Let’s tackle what I will miss first, and let’s limit it to five in each group.

1 – The Food – Well, the past year has been a culinary experience I never imagined. I thought I liked Thai food before, dining at Edinburgh’s many outlets whenever I had the chance, but the reality is that I had never so much as sniffed a Thai meal until Surat. The range of flavours present in the simplest dish is incredible and a mere dipping sauce can have you guessing ingredients for half an hour. The freshest, sweetest, juiciest fruit I’ve ever known, the range of spices from the slow-burner to the shotgun blast, the novelty of corn as a desert option and the incomparable cost all left an indelible mark on my memory.

2 – The Weather – Back home I used to pride myself on my resilience to the Scottish elements, happily (stubbornly) striding or cycling to work come biting rain, howling gales or suicide-inducing sleet while my fellow travellers cowered in their heated buses. No more. For the past fourteen months I’ve rarely had to endure temperatures below 30C, galloping to the opposite extreme and eschewing the aircon in my room for a simple fan to keep the mozzies at bay. The glorious sunshine highlights the wondrous colours in the city around me, from the fruit stands to the Buddhist garlands and paints the sky the most incredible, unforgettable blue. The downside is that I am a dead man, possibly literally, the second I set foot back on home turf.

3 – The Wildlife – Whether flora or fauna, I’ve been in a new universe for the past year. Once you leave the city limits and hit the countryside you are surrounded by the lushest, most verdant countryside you could hope to witness, peppered by flowers of every hue. The air around you is a constant chorus of the animal denizens, untold species of bird flashing to and forth above a jungle alive with monkeys, elephants and creatures of every size in between. Even in my own home I’ve grown so fond of the ever-present geckos I’ll have trouble adjusting to life without them, especially the little guy who, for two weeks, would crawl out and watch intently whenever I picked up my guitar.

4 – The Culture – And this includes the people in general. There’s a reason it’s called the Land Of Smiles, I have never felt so welcomed anywhere in the world. There’s a genuine friendliness in Surat, far removed from the mindset prevalent in the tourist traps which regards tourists as  little more than walking wallets. You are welcomed wholeheartedly into people’s lives, and once you’re in, it’s beautiful. People share everything, from their emotions to their motorbikes, and it’s all done for nothing more than a sense of friendship and a desire for mutual happiness. There’s a deep, loving respect for others that is so sorely missing back ‘home’.

5 – My Students – I told myself that this wouldn’t happen, that it’s just a first year of a teaching career and that I’m allowed to have fun with the kids but not get attached. Fuck. Really blew that one! It was an insidious happening, slowly, subtly creeping up on my until a point about four or five months when I suddenly though “How the hell am I supposed to leave these guys?”. The private, afterschool classes affected me more than the high school ones. From Punsip and her predilection (luckily shared and encouraged by me) for communicating through animal noises, through initially shy Ming who started off terrified of me thank to a misjudged joke about cutting off his fingers for forgetting homework yet soon blossomed into the most precocious, chatty and generally brilliant student in the world, I’m going to badly miss them all. Especially Maisow and her constant stream of gifts, from homemade cards and scrawlings to papercraft dolls and bizarre, scrunched-up paper heads, all liberally daubed with “I love Paul”. Those kids were my reason for getting up in the morning, especially in the last few months after Em had returned home. It’s going to be tough without them.

Okay, so that’s the things I’ll miss, but what pissed me off? What can I live without? Read on…

1 – The Food – I’ve come to reason that there are  certain foods which are more or less staples everywhere and just seem to have skipped Thailand out for some bizarre reason. These are – in no particular order – beef, bread, chocolate, wine, beer, coffee and potatoes. Look, I love Thai food and there’s no need to eat anything but if you’re in Surat. Just don’t offer ‘western food’ if it bears not even a passing resemblance to western food. And for the love of god, sort the coffee out!

2 – The Weather – Today? Hot ‘n’ sunny. Tomorrow? Hot ‘n’ sunny. The rest of your life? Hot ‘n’ sunny. Seriously, enough already. I miss seasons, they add a bit of variety and let you know what time of year it is, my internal calendar is so fucked up after this past year. And for the record Thailand? Slightly more rain than normal and slightly lower temperatures does NOT a season make. Get a grip.

3 – The Wildlife – Bugs, bugs, bugs. I can handle them served up on a platter at the night market (actually quite like them) but crawling all over my house? No. Coackroaches are harmless but, like southerners, they’re disgusting, annoying and get fucking everywhere. Mozzies – not so harmless, along with ants they managed to turn my limbs into veritable artworks, grotesque modern sculpture masterpieces, ever since I set itchy foot in the country. And the night chorus? Fuck me, I’ve had so many sleepless nights thanks to the combined efforts of dogs, crickets and frogs that it’s far beyond a joke. Fuck animal rights, they’re all cunts and need exterminated.

4 – The Culture – Okay, this section has been tongue in cheek so far, but there is a serious note. The casual racism is NOT acceptable. It’s bad enough being treated as an exhibit while visiting a zoo, Thais draping themselves off you for a photo, but we get the soft end of things. The treatment of darker-skinned people and certain foreigners, the Burmese in particular, is fucking disgusting and a disgrace to the country. And that’s just the start. There’s the undercurrent of violence due to the fact that conflict resolution is an alien concept. There’s the constant dangerous and drunk driving. Throw in the immensity of the corruption from local police up to the highest levels of governments and you remove a significant amount of the sheen from what initially seemed an immaculate exterior. Parts of the inside are, unfortunately, rotten.

5 – My Students – Nah, just kidding. I even miss the ones who annoyed the living shit out of me every single day. Prach, Tony – I’m looking at you…

So that’s yer lot. Okay, it’s far from a comprehensive list, more like some time-wasting to take my mind off things – quite successfully I might add – but maybe it’ll give some of my non-Surat friends an idea. I hope it does, writing that list just reminded me of something that I should never allow the events of the past week to make me forget – that taking this job and upping sticks for Surat was the single best decision of my life to date.

Random ejaculations

Wow. What a week. Well, what a few weeks to be more precise but the epicentre of the shitstorm which struck my life was located squarely about six days ago. I just realised there are a few people whose grapevines – non-Facebook-ites that they are – aren’t extensive enough to have registered the catastrophe, maybe just picking up hints of the aftershock in my last post.

So, in plainspeak, Em and I split up at the beginning of last week. I’m not going into the details here because it’s none of most people’s business, suffice it to say that I didn’t pull the trigger, although I may have been in some way complicit in loading the gun. She was amazing, a truly wonderful person in every way, and I miss her unimaginably. Right now every last minute is difficult, from rising in the morning to falling back into a fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep after a day which, no matter how interesting and exotic it may seem to the outsider, is to me utterly grey, devoid of any taste, colour or smell.

Points for melodrama? Nine out of ten? Fuck it, right now I’m in pain and don’t really give a fuck what anyone else thinks. I’m on Phuket, an island paradise, and am about to spend three days in Kuala Lumpur with all the glories it has to offer. So what? Still each day stretches out before me, a pitiless, black shadow stretching far beyond the horizon.

And there’s the other thing, in the same week that the relationship bombshell dropped I had to pack up my new life and leave Surat Thani, the little town that could, and a place which from out of nowhere felt more like home than anywhere I can remember. Saying goodbye to all the friends I’ve made over the year, particularly some wonderful Thai people and my flatmates. All after saying goodbye to the woman who meant the world to me.

Never had such a tough week in my life, and I’ve been fucking divorced.

So yeah, that’s pretty much the story so far. On Friday I’ll be in London and the day after back in Edinburgh, freezing my doubtless shrunken balls off. So, what now?

Well, first up is recovery. I’ve been here before and I know the ropes, much more intimately than I’d like to. Despite any number of heart-to-heart talks, friendly hugs, kind words and free pints I’m about to receive I WILL feel like shit for a while. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be human.

But as my friend Alex, finest shopkeeper in all of Surat, told me – always look forward. Always. The past is behind us and we can learn from it but we must never, ever dwell on it. It’s not productive and brings only pain. Once my head is in a better place I’ll appreciate that the future is open to me. I have a year’s teaching experience which leaves me much better placed for finding work around the world. I’m currently looking at South America with another good friend from Surat Thani and also have some leads in Japan, Taiwan and even Bahrain (with yet another Surat contact).

The future’s bright dammit, I just need to wash my glasses.

A couple of final thoughts before I go. The 365 Pictures project is now defunct. It was something I embarked upon with Em and I’ve lost any mojo I had for it. You know you’re pretty far gone when the mere act of taking a photograph has you reaching for the whisky. For that matter the blog might suffer too, at least for a while. I don’t just want write miserable shit like this all the time, I’m not fucking Morrissey, thank fuck, and would rather wait till I’m back on an even keel. Still, you never know. I think in some way it helps me so I might keep it up, feel free to tell be to cheer up and stop being a miserable fuck if it gets too teen-angsty.

And for those who wonder, I feel no bitterness towards Em. It wasn’t like that. She was honest with me and I’ve always, always maintained that I’d rather be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie. It offers no immediate solace but is immeasurably better in the long term and that knowledge and attitude informs every part of my life. Honesty and truth are important above all else. The way her life is just now it can’t include me but if that part of her life were to disappear or change tomorrow then I would, in all honesty, be on the next plane to wherever she was. Matches like that just don’t come along often enough to ignore them.

No escape

It’s always the hardest part. No matter where you go the memories will follow, haunting your every step, lurking in every familiar, once-friendly place, poised to ambush you and destroy your carefully constructed aura of calm. They’re persistent and plentiful enough in a normal life to hamper your every attempt at rehabilitation, but when you’ve made your home on the far side of the world they’re inescapable.

That food shack under the bridge by work? The scene of so many lunchtime liaisons in the past, I see her sitting at every table. The wine I bought last night, hoping in vain to be able to hide from reality until I could catch my breath? Naturally the same we’d drank together on  so many wonderful nights.

Even this coffee shop, shunned in the later days of our time together, is beaming her at me from every angle, forcing me to hear her soft laughter, feel her gentle touch and stare once more into her wonder-filled eyes.

Naturally the worst is the bedroom. Not for the obvious reasons, far from it. The physical reminders are everywhere, literally everywhere. I’d already taken the photos down in a pre-packing session but still they lie in a pile, under the photo album she made for me, just daring me to flick through them one last time. The angelic pastel drawing she made for me, the gift that had me speechless and close to tears at its sheer beauty, lies against the wall watching my every move. The love-notes, simple Post-its plastered with sweet nothings, wrapped around every other coathanger in my wardrobe. The ring by my bedside, the t-shirts she gave me, the backpack I was bringing home to her.

There is no escape.

Even turning this computer on brings me face to face with her, the desktop shamelessly portraying us arm-in-arm on the bed, each rapt with joy in what was my favourite photograph in the world. Should I leave it idling too long I’ll be tortured with a torrent of images, a chronological document of our lives together and our love for each other.

And even as I type I remember the photograph in the wallet, a reduction of that favourite photograph, placed so I’d be able to see her smile wherever I went, the smile which melted my heart at every appearance and could reduce me to a speechless schoolboy at the briefest flash. And the sticker she cheekily placed over it, speech bubble at her mouth asking innocently, “Do you love me?”

I did. More than you’ll ever know,  and with every fibre of my being.

The memories are everywhere I look, everywhere I go. It’s a small town, there is nowhere I can go that I haven’t already been with her. For the next three days I have to endure this torture, seventy-two hours during which every minute will seem a lifetime. I’ll try my best to keep my head up, to tell myself that there’s an end in sight, light at the end of the tunnel, whichever cliche you prefer as they all fail miserably to communicate the desperation, the pain, the loneliness and the sense of utter futility. I’ll soon be home and free to face this on my stomping ground and on my own terms.

Until then there is no escape.

365 Pictures – 3rd October 2010

Holy crap, only going to have five more weeks of Thailand photos after this one (plus one week’s worth of Cambodia and one of Malaysia) and then it’s back to the old country. I’m sure there will be plenty of photo opportunities back home but most of them will be fat, bearded drunks lying in the gutter or skin-headed, tattooed youths in designer clothes beating the crap out of each other, then lying in the gutter. Or the whorish maidens they’re no doubt fighting over. Yeah, they’ll be lying in the gutter too, covered in their own vomit and unfeasible amounts of make-up.

Do I have to go back? Do I really have to???

No. 72, 26/09/10 - Continuing my series of abandoned childhood companions. This was found by the riverside near Tigger's place. Probable cause of death - drowning.

No. 73, 27/09/10 - One of the two laziest cats in Surat, both of whom seem to spend all day sleeping on copies of Guns & Ammo at the night market.

No. 74, 28/09/10 - Vic's team placed second at the pub quiz (we won obviously) and received all of Moss's loose change as a bonus prize. Never did find out how much there was...

No. 75, 29/09/10 - Staff meal at a Korean barbecue just around the corner from the middle of nowhere. Best of its kind I've been to though, I embarked on an epic kidney-fest. And those green garlic noodles, dear god.

No. 76, 30/09/10 - Covering Kayla's classes at Joy School again. So many cute photos of kids but I went with the cup rack instead. Shut up, it's my photo series.

No. 77, 01/10/10 - No, it's not a mad scientist's lab, it's jars of mysterious, syrupy goodness at the night market. It's amazing that the entire country doesn't have diabetes.

No. 78, 02/10/10 - My own little dawn chorus lines up on my balcony. Every Saturday and Sunday I lie in bed reading to the sound of these guys. Fun times.

Project 6000 – The Verdict

Okay, so a month ago I decided I would set myself a challenge, attempting to live for an entire month on a total of 6,000 baht (or £200 £125 to my countrymen). This was to include all food, drinks, fuel, bills and other entertainments, the only exception being rent which is included in my contract.

So how did I do? Well the month is now over and my final outlay came in at – drum roll – 5,925 baht! I made it! In fact I technically came in well under budget depending on how you look at things…

You see I was extremely strict with my tally, including every unseen expense which cropped up – oil change on the bike, fixing a headlight and the added expenses of keeping in touch with a girlfriend who’s bathed in sunlight while I’m staring at the moon (admittedly not much but texts and internet access add up over time).  But this stictness with additional outgoings means I’m also permitted to include incomings on my budget so toss in an extra 1,000 baht’s worth of winnings at the three pub quizzes which took place over the period of the experiment. That’s 1,000 baht I intend to spend on enjoying myself this weekend, bottle of half-decent wine here I come :)

So that’s how it worked out on paper, but what was it like actually living on that kind of a budget? Could it be done long term? Would I do it again? Well the only honest answer is that I don’t know. There were so many factors to add up – I’m saving for leaving Thailand, I’m trying to cut down on drink (major expense over here), there was a ton of work to be done so I was permanently exhausted and, on top of everything else, I missed Em immensely and didn’t always feel sociable. So maybe at another time it wouldn’t have worked and I wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

But the fact remains that the cost of living here is so low and entertainment is so easy to come by that there’s no need to be earning  a fortune to enjoy life in Surat Thani. With the right attitude, some good friends and a little imagination you can live like a king on a shoestring budget.

It’s going to be a hell of a shock re-adjusting to Western prices and the difference in value between items – over here you can buy a good meal for half the cost of a bottle of beer, back home you can get (if I remember rightly) at least a couple of pints for the price of your lunch. It’s easy to avoid naughty snacks in a country where a small bag of Maltesers can cost more than your dinner. And to balance that up, let’s not forget the insanely low price of ‘blended spirits’ and the fact that you can bring a bottle to pretty much any bar.

I’m going to miss Thailand. But I’m going to enjoy my brief trip back to my old world just as much :-)

(Thanks to Tigger for the currency correction, my impending trips to the UK, Canada and America have my head all in a tangle…)

365 Pictures – 26th September 2010

Not a single picture of students in this batch! Amazing! Well it is school holidays now I suppose…

No. 65, 19/09/10 - Wonderful cabinet of creepy Corpse Bride-style dolls in a coffee shop just off Ratbumrung

No. 66, 20/09/10 - Sunset over Surat's rooftops

No. 67, 21/09/10 - I'm going to miss the creepy mannequins when I leave...

No. 68, 22/09/10 - Nui entranced by lunchtime soaps at Cafe'ine

No. 69, 23/09/10 - Best paenang gai, massuman satek and gai med mak muang ever :)

No. 70, 24/09/10 - Shipwrecked in Surat

No. 71, 25/09/10 - Brollies, brollies everywhere - bizarrely beautiful display in Coliseum (FYI cameras aren't allowed in there...)

Time to prepare for parent’s day at Suratpittaya, but not before indulging myself in an overdose of Electric Six. I got dance fever and the only prescription is Dick Valentine…

Limbo

It’s been a tough few weeks. For the past month(-ish) I’ve been working extra hours to develop a new curriculum at Suratpittaya, writing and grading exams at both schools, trying desperately hard to save money in preparation for an impending three-month bout of unemployment spanning three countries and, on top of all that, cutting down drastically on booze intake and trying to regain some semblance of my pre-Thailand fitness levels. All in all it’s been a success – my budget is on track (more or less), I’m running 5k’s with minimal effort despite the constant heat and humidity and my kids have almost all performed admirably on the last set of assessments I’ll be grading for them. The curriculum is another story altogether, an organisational clusterfuck of Labour party proportions, but it’s slowly taking shape and making my CV look very attractive indeed.

All this comes at a price though.

Time was my phone would constantly be abuzz with messages – parties, meals, beach outings, poker nights – all kinds of festivities, and an invitation to every one. It’s remarkable how quickly things change once you drop off the social radar for a short while though. People who’d once been regular fixtures in my life are just vague shadows in the background. Even solicitations for an evening’s entertainment go unanswered, Friday nights spent working, cleaning then collapsing in bed after a quick beer at a deserted Coolin’ Out.

It feels a little like living in limbo – another sub-universe of all-night hedonism and cameraderie existing in some impenetrable bubble next to mine. There’s a door into this dimension but the bouncer’s a hard-ass and I seem to have misplaced my membership card.

Not that I’m really complaining though, the reality of my new situation has forced me to suddenly take stock of my life, where I am and where I want to be. If this social seclusion and exclusion is the price I pay for securing a more entertaining and fulfilling future, then so be it. My days of partying every night purely for the sake of being out and getting stupid are thankfully behind me, and the prospect of house parties, drunken twister and countless potheads couldn’t hold less allure. I can take pleasure in my relaxation, in work, in study and in solitude. The company I thought I was missing is simply part of the transient nature of this job – people come and people go, that’s just the  way things are. My true friends are back home and, apart from a few with whom I’ll stay in touch, most of these fellow travellers are little more than the cliched boats passing in the night.

Aah, the cathartic power of writing. I was worrying about this last night but talking to Em this morning and battering the keyboard for five minutes puts it all in perspective. Look forward, that’s what Alex said. Forward to three months which will encompass fun and games in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Scotland, Canada and America, all in the company of people I truly care about.

Mmm, gonna celebrate this newfound relaxed state with some Suede, Edgar Allan Poe and a little 18-year old Singleton…