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.