#12 from SE Asia — Riding into Phuket Island, and visiting my old friend Clifford Brown
February 2nd, 2011
SiaYuan, Phuket Island, Thailand
I left from Takua Pa at about 11 am, much later than I had planned. But I simply had to visit all the Tsunami museums and exhibits. I didnt figure I would get very close to Phuket Island with this late start. So it was heads down pedalling. I had hills to climb, but I was feeling really strong. The trip was doing me well. I just stopped for quick papaya salads and fruit juices and kept flying. Sometimes I was maintaining close to 25 km per hour.
I took one short nap at lunch and then hit the road again. By 5 pm I had 100 kms under my belt in the heat as I got to Phuket Bridge. Wow I was having a fine day. I was much further than expected. Usually it is the other way around.
My plan was now to take the first reasonably priced guest house I could find. But as I rode 20 kms. into the north side of the island, I found that it was all agriculture and national parks. Not one place to stay, and the sun had just set. To top it off, the roads were wet. Major trucks came by spraying me with sand and mud. My bike did not have lights, and it was beginning to rain harder.
I saw a small restaurant to my left. No sooner had I pulled my bike under the awning and heaven completely broke loose with a tropical deluge. The road filled with deep water as cars plunged into it. They threw water 5 meters to the side.
By the way they stared at me, I gathered that I was the first ‘farang’ (foreigner) who had eaten at this restaurant. No one here spoke any English. There were about ten young men sitting at a table. I figured that they were regulars. I ordered a beer for me, and two large bottles of beer for them. Cheers and toasts and I was sitting at their table. Glasses were filled and refilled as we talked and laughed, about what I was not completely sure.
I got out my Thai grammar book and dictionary and grunted out the tones as best I could. They laughed more.
The guys took turns introducing everyone else by name. One of them would tell me the name of their buddy and ask me to repeat it. The buddy would object, but I would repeat it anyhow. Then the whole table would break up in l laughter. They would repeat the process again and again, with roaring laughter each time. I did my best to remember their names. I was not sure if it were the foulness of the names, or my terrible mispronunciations of it that made them laugh so hard, but it sure worked. I was the life of the party. No matter how many times I repeated their names, their laughter did not diminish. They were literally blowing beer thru their noses. Some of them kept repeating my mauled words.
Now at this table, I was clearly just a one-trick pony. But I decided to master that trick well. I have learned to speak basic block Thai in direct, simple statements. The grammar is very easy, and the pronunciation very very difficult. So I imagine my statements went something like this.
You want more beer, Mr. DickNose?
HA HA HA HA HA!!!
Mr. Fart Breath, please give me more rice.
HA HA HA HA HA!!!
I do not want hot sauce, Mrs. Little Penis.
HA HA HA HA HA!!!
Yes I like Thai food very much, Mr. Vagina Mouth.
HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!
Wow could I tell jokes in Thai. I felt proud of myself as a cultural ambassador from the United States. I am sure that if my professorial colleagues at Indiana University ever read this, they would be very proud of my new levels of academic development. And I am sure that they will NEVER read any of this.
Then even more food came. Bags of whole steamed crabs, hot fish soup, snacks, deep-fried little fish, rice, veggies and chicken, and food spicy enough to give me the hickups on the first bite. The bowls went into the center of the table and everyone including me ate from them. Fantastic food. And the ordinary Thais appeared to eat like this every day, and not get fat.
Later the young men shook hands and departed. We all had clearly had a good time. And then, there I was, in a closing restaurant, all alone except for the staff. I had arrived wet, hungry and thirsty. And now I was dry, full, and drunk. It was pitch dark outside and still raining. Trucks were roaring by. I had finally done it. It was getting toward 11 pm and I had gotten my ass high and stranded with no place to go, and no tent this time either.
I walked over to my bike, really not knowing where to go, or what to do. The waiter grabbed my hand and shook his head. He led me to a side room in the restaurant. They had already cleared out a little area and placed a mat on the floor for me.
Wow. What kind people. They saw my predicament and had already solved it before I could ask. Wow. They brought my bike inside and gave me a towel and showed me where I could bathe. I really needed to. I offered a few hundred baht ($$7) and they refused. I finally had to press the money into the eldest lady’s hand and refuse to take the money back. We bowed to each other with our hands in prayer position and said our good nights.
Then I bathed and slept on the floor. Next day we were all up at dawn. They had their cameras out to take pictures of me. I thanked them again and we wished each other well. My daily blessings.
Visiting my old friend Clifford Brown. This is about an ancient friendship.
Clifford Brown and I have known each other since we were teenagers. We worked in the psych building at Indiana University together, attended rallies and got arrested in demonstrations together, were family friends, had our kids at about the same time, and spent time with each others families. We all have friends like this. I am not special.
Clifford has battled his alcoholism his whole adult life. More than a few times, I swore off ever seeing him again after he would come by totally drunk. I almost had to physically throw him out of a party at my home in 2002. Yet I loved the humor and genius in the man. As much as anyone I have ever met, Clifford understands the joy and madness of life.
So I find that Clifford is living on Phuket Island and has not had a drink in almost 5 years. Sure, I will visit him. And what a visit it has been. Ohhh, I have to listen to the Alcoholics Anonymous and spiritual stuff. But that’s okay. I will occasionally have to verbally bitch-slap him down when he gets too preachy. But then the humor gets going and I cannot stop laughing. Clif keeps it lovingly outrageous, and at times, brutally honest.
Here are some photos. BTW, Clif and I have been insulting each other for almost 50 years, so I see no reason to stop now.