Chicago and Thai Muang were perhaps tied for the best places to be on Nov. 4.
So Adena and I finished our journey together in a small touristy town called Krabi where we enjoyed good meals, some live music (I played at a small jam session where they had a trumpet and was hesitantly introduced to the crowd in a thick Thai accent as "Trumpet Guy!"). We also visited a great Buddhist temple that is situated up on a mounted, reached only by climbing about 1,200 uneven and steep concrete stairs, each of them conveniently numbered to tell you how close you aren't. It goes without saying that I had a great time traveling with Adena and would travel with her anytime, as long as she brings tea.
I since then I have been on a coastal national park just outside of the town of Thai Muang. Here, I have been teaching Enlgish and helping out with a few small marine projects. The people are nice, the beach is beautiful, and Barack is going to be president. So far, so good.
By almost any standards, the accomadtions are almost luxurious. I have my own bungalow, and while the term "bungalow" has quite a wide spectrum, it is pretty much exactly as you imagined it when you first read the word. A bathroom, sink, Western toilet, double bed, two fans, and a few chairs make it more than comfortable. I could never get away with claiming to be "roughing" it. It does, however, have some personality…
First there are the ants. By my last count there were three competing colonies in and around – wait no, just in – my bungalow who are extremely efficient at cleaning up after any mess I make, and as long as they don't bite my feet and stay away from my pants (we had a disagreement about that once, but we worked things out) they are welcome any time. As a matter of fact, I would probably get some ants for an apartment back in the states if I was not looking to court a significant other in the not too distant future.
And then there is Click and Clack! No, I can't listen to Car Talk. Those are the names of the geckos who live with me. Click is the darker one, but these guys change color so it's hard to tell sometimes. Actually, I think in the bungalow there is also a Doug Berman, Michael Feldman, Garrison Keiler, Johnathan Shwarts, Carle Castle, Kye RIsdall, and Padjole.
Finally, there are the gigantic beetles. These things are huge and dumb. They get locked into rooms, fly around, and die the next morning. When these things get locked into a small tin shed, it's like a performance of Stomp, without the talent.
I find that the people here are perhaps the hardest to describe. They are delicate yet strong, relaxed yet hard working, poor yet not poor, and content yet uneasy. Above all they are friendly. Now, this stereotype is often placed on Thais and it is true that people are always smiling, but I have come to learn, though being suspicious at times, that in almost all cases it is truly a welcoming smile. With my broken Thai, I often stop in stores and simply start up conversations. People are quick to offer advice, help with the language, and simply ask about me. The staff at the park, to whom I teach English twice a day and many of whom live here in the park, immediately offered food, comforts and treated me as if I was part of the team.
I teach one class to the office staff and one to the housekeeping staff (don't tell anyone, but they're my favorite). Things are very relaxed with young children often around, small interruptions and lots and lots of laughter. I learned very quickly that the key to making any of the teaching work was making a bit of a fool of myself with some Thai as to reduce tensions about English, stay laid back, almost never start on time, and that women learn in class, men learn in the back of pickup trucks (almost all interaction and English with the men is informal, but I think they are still picking up quite a bit).
Any level of sustainability is hard to gauge. Sym is a worker who speaks excellent English and I am going to start working with her to perhaps continue teaching when I leave in three weeks. The effectiveness of teaching English is something I still struggle with. In terms of motivation, all the workers have a simple answer: they want to be able to communicate with tourists. It's not for a better job or to move to a better paying position, it's simply to communicate more easily with the few tourists who do come to the park quite infrequently.
One of my most intriguing friendships is with a worker whose name is too long and complicated to write but translates to "skilled one". I'll refer to him from now on as Skill. I first met skill just hanging outside the main office waiting for the day to start. He was serious looking, thin, of dark complexion and with a mustache and old long sleeved shirt with padding in the elbows all of which gave the immediate impression of "expert", and that was before I knew his name. Skill doesn't speak much English at all and seemed to want nothing to do with me after our brief introduction through Sym. Ten minutes later, in the back of a pickup truck, Skill was asking me every name for the tools in English and teaching me the names in Thai. It turns out that he is one of the resident divers at the park, his wife is one of the most frequent laughers in my classes, and he lives two houses away from my bungalow. I will forever remember that on election day in '08, I was in a friendly open-water race with Skill back from the buoy mentioned above, passing by the biggest jellyfish – pardon me, the biggest fucking jellyfish – I have ever seen.
One last friend I have to mention before wrapping this up is Mayo. Mayo is a goddess - she cooks my food. Let me briefly summarize the reason for my admiration: Mayo is the mother of two, a three month old and a two year old. She comes to class every day as the most enthusiastic student, teaches the others, all while taking care of Furn (the two year old) literally during class, runs a small store in the Visitor Center, takes time out of her day to cook me both lunch and dinner, all Thai vegetarian including tofu, delivers it to my door each evening, won't let me clean up after lunch, and does it all with a consistant "Mai pen rai!" (no problem, no worries!). Mayo is great. The highlight of my day is sitting down to lunch on the floor of the visitor center each day after the lesson with the housekeeping staff. Things in Thai Muang are slow for my taste, but I am getting to meet some amazing people.
And now it's time to go diving...
Addendum (added two days after prior entry)
Patong sucks. I decided to do a little scuba diving this weekend as Thailand has great diving. The tourism here is unbearable, though. The town is the complete opposite of Thai Muang and quite frankly is different than anything I have ever seen. There are endless clubs, shops, resturaunts, hecklers, taxis, prostitutes (I mean "Thai Massage" providers), dealers, wheelers, flyers, buyers, beggars (few givers), scams and shams. It is not tourism I am against or even the heckling and constant barrage of offers, it's the desperation behind it. The business here is not benefiting the local people as I don't think they see much of a slice of the profits.
And the environment is taking a pretty big hit, too. I tried to book with an environmentally friendsly dive shop, but even they "farmed" me out to another agency with a dive master that fed the fish, etc... At one point, when he offered me the pufferfush which he had trapped, grabbed and therefore induced into an ever so photogenic panicked state of puff, I could only wave my hands - "no thank you". I couldn't tell if the lack of coral was due to the tsunami (understandable) or the careless dive industry. I hope the planned dive next week at a marine national park (with a hefty fee to dive) is better. Diving is unfortunately becoming a hard hobby to swallow for this Greenbaum.
So please don't come to Patong, unless of course you have a brilliant strategy for sustainable re-development and a distain for touching poor pufferfish.