…how much you can do in a day?
Discovering the shower is not hot, functional but currently not hot (Ham resolves that minor problem later), deciding that three day old, curling, stuck to the head hair is perfectly acceptable, and a quick cold wash later, I start my new regime.
First an exploration of the beach. Note: ‘exploration’, I’m working my way up to a morning run – it could take several months.
Passing two massage and nail parlours (those of you who have been to Thailand will instantly remember their sophistication), I find myself at the four star hotel that looked so glamourous last night with its fairy lights twinkling. It is still pretty splendid even in daylight, but it has little or no beach, a sense of ‘you could be anywhere’ and quite frankly, (I allow myself a little smirk) not nearly as charming as my home.
Paddling through the warm ‘tallay’, that’s ‘sea’ – 24 hours and my Thai has improved 300% – not difficult when my prior vocabulary consisted of ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’, I pass more ‘beauty’ parlours, a dive school, a couple of resorts (more little smirks) and finally return to my shabby chic piece of heaven for breakfast.
The tea is dreadful, I had forgotten just how dreadful. The coffee not much better but the fluffy omelette and plate piled high with chunks of water melon, pineapple and bananas, sublime.
Man child arrives at about midday and we set off to town. Me in a tuk tuk, he on his motor bike following, helmet thrown carelessly over the handle bars…useful.
Town is town. Tired backpackers with pre half moon party hangovers, a glorious food market full of smells that cannot be replicated in colder climes, shops stuffed with cheap, bright clothes – all in Kate Moss size so no hope of anything fitting, and Man child wouldn’t let me buy the ‘fins’ I spied at £17.
“Far too expensive! We’ll get some at the dive school.”
Everyone is on motorbikes. Babies are on motorbikes, Grannies older than me are on motorbikes, I am beginning to feel like a western wuss so when Man child suggests we go to Mahlee’s (a friend of his) restaurant for lunch and I go on the back of his motor bike…
“You can wear the helmet, Mum”…
….I reluctantly acquiesce.
The journey on the flat is about 15 minutes. How many ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck’s! Can you fit into 15 minutes?
I probably hit the thousand.
“Oh fuck! I’m on a motorbike!”
We pass the small strip devoted to sex tourism. Phangan is a twice a month party island and aside from that just sleepy though not nearly as sleazy as Phuket. I suspect sex tourism will increase as the back packers move on to new territories but for now it is confined to maybe half a dozen “Massage Parlours” (not the same as the ones on the beach, which really do do massages), with pretty bored Thai girls pampering each other as there is little trade at lunchtime.
A massive black cloud ahead of us and the race is on to get to Mahlee’s before it bursts.
“It’s only a shower, Mum”.
Doesn’t look like a shower to me, looks like a full on tsunami!
We just make it as the heavens open.
Mahlee’s restaurant consists of maybe 4 tables, more caff than cafe. A laundry on one side and a ‘rent a motor bike’ shop on the other.
She is furious with Man child. Phangan it seems is smaller than Molesey when it comes to knowing who is doing what. A friend of hers saw Man child passing yesterday and he didn’t stop to say ‘hello’.
“Why you not say ‘Hello’, yesterday, Ardee?” You are no friend! Who is thees? Your friend?” She spits the word ‘friend’ out with venom and flashes her dark eyes at me.
Mahlee is 50 and makes me feel like a cross between Methuselah and Gulliver. She is tiny, bird like and youthfully pretty; her thighs slimmer than my arms. I feel like an elephant. She also obviously adores Man child and having discovered I am not his ‘friend’ proceeds to flirt outrageously with him, telling ‘Mamma’ that he is good ‘Farang’, showing me with pride the menus that Man child has made for her, thanking him for the loan he gave her to pay her rent, insisting she cooks the fresh prawns that have just been delivered, and that we share a beer.
She decides I am OK. I am open. I have good heart.
We eat. One dish at a time. Mine first. Mahlee is chef, Maitre D, and washer upper, there is no chance all our dishes will arrive at the same time. It is a hard life – her life. She has no family, except her ‘lady boy’ (her words) brother on Phangan. What is left of her family lives on Koh Tao, the diving island. Her brother arrives and is introduced. He is very sweet but possibly a crust short of a sandwich. I show him the pen given to me by a lawyer friend who works for Man Hunt, a gay dating site. The pen has a man wearing Calvin Klein’s on the side. Once tilted the Calvin Klein’s roll down revealing a somewhat disappointing manhood. Mahlee’s brother is in raptures and I know I have lost the pen forever as he proceeds to show it to both neighbours and anyone else he can stop in the street, giggling as he does.
A break in the cloud and Man child decides it is time for him to head home and get his training gear. He has a kick boxing session at 5.30.
Mahlee says he can’t leave ‘Mamma’ on her own.
“She’s fine Mahlee, she’s a grown up.”
Mahlee and I chat for another hour and I hear her story, which is tragic and, I suspect, typical. The best bits being 2 marriages, both to Germans. One who knocked out two of her teeth and broke her cheekbone and the other who treated her like a slave. I have promised not to tell the rest of her story until time and distance will spare her any loss of face. Now she is alone but more content. She still drinks beer and smokes ‘puff’ occasionally but has all her other excesses under control. Her dream is to open a laundry next year; it is full of dreams this land of smiles.
Another break in the downpour and time for me to head home. Mahlee insists she will find me a ride – and disappears. Half and hour and 3 passing taxis later, she comes back and shrugs – no one to take me.
That grumpy gene is starting to kick in as a recycling half back pulls up. An immaculately dressed young woman is driving with 2 dodgy looking characters in the back. The dodgy men load up Mahlee’s recycling and the young woman pays Mahlee as Mahlee starts negotiating my ride home. I am not happy and tell Mahlee I would feel safer going in a taxi.
Affronted she waves her hands and stamps her feet.
“This is my FRIEND! You don’t want to go with my FRIEND”.
I know I’ve lost, so, hugging Mahlee goodbye and promising to return in the next few days, I climb into the half back and introduce myself to the young woman driver, Nute.
Never judge books by their cover. At my age I should know that. Nute is 43 (looks about 20). The recycling is her business. The men in the back are her temporary labour force. They look dodgy because they’ve been handling rubbish all day. When they go back to Bangkok next week she will have to sort out all the recycling herself. Heavy work, hard work. We drop the labour force off in Thongsala and continue over the hills to my home.
Nute has 2 children a daughter of 24 who is finishing her degree in Bangkok and another who is 19, married at 14 (yes, 14) and is now 6 month’s pregnant. She had hoped that her son-in-law would join her business and relieve her of some of the heavy work but it seems that Thai men do not always make good husbands.
The father of Nute’s daughters left many years ago and Nute has brought them up single handedly, starting her recycling business 4 years ago.
In the next twenty minutes she points out the best sights on the island, tells me she has a friend with good rooms to let if I am not happy with mine, says I should learn to ride a motorbike and that she will swap motorbike lessons for English lessons.
When I suggest that I am better suited to 4 wheels than 2 she says she has another friend who may be willing to rent me a car at Thai rates.
“Do you drink alcohol?” Out of the blue, as we approach a bar perched high on a hilltop with stunning views.
“Is the Pope catholic?” She looks blankly.
“Poot len” (Only joking) – see I’m getting the hang of this.
I suggest we leave the drink until we get home where she could speak to Ham to see if there was a chance of her picking up the resort’s recycling contract. There isn’t, the owner of the resort also has a recycling business.
We sit on the beach as the sun sets, drinking cocktails. Ham and his 2 year old daughter come out to provide the fire show – 2 and she can juggle with fire. Nute shows me photo’s of her boyfriend. 39 from the north of England and now living with her here on Phangan. I advise that she should look after herself first and make sure he is a ‘good’ man before she throws her lot in with him.
I tell her she must meet Man child and ‘She who must be obeyed’ when they arrive. She tells me that her eldest daughter will be my Thai teacher when she comes down for Christmas.
Call from Man child. I decline the offer of dinner and tell him about my day and my new friends.
He’s happy with that – happy that I am settling and he has half moon party on his side of the island to go to.
Nute and I swap numbers and I agree to go and see the car tomorrow.
You can pack an awful lot into one day.
Who knew I could go on a motorbike?