September the 11th. For Americans, it’s a date that carries a lot of memories and sorrow. It also carries with it a rising level of jingoistic rhetoric and overly patriotic statements, the tragedy too large, I think, for our sound-bite culture to digest properly, too real to be actual memory. It’s a political day, as all events in the US are, it seems, as politicians reach out to their base with varying levels of thinly veiled xenophobia or condemnations/accusations of such.
Okay, enough of my fatigue of American politics.
It was a political day in Singapore as well this year, the date having been selected as the day Singaporeans went to the polls to choose their new leaders for the next legislative session. I’m hardly an expert on Parliamentary structure in my host country, but my understanding of the process is thus: each region of the country elects a representative within the legislative body, the Parliament, and the party leader of the party with control of said body becomes the Prime Minister. As I understand it, very much like the British system, though I believe British parliament is bi-cameral, not uni-cameral as it is here. You may feel free to read about Singapore’s governmental structure and history if you wish, I won’t be describing it in any more detail out of ignorance on the subject1and, candidly, respect for my host country. You can/have no doubt read of Singapore’s party interactions, my particular bend towards unilateral social justice and leftist political stance will no doubt color my reporting of that subject. Call me a coward, if you will, but it’s not my house; I don’t come for a visit and tell someone how to run their affairs..
Suffice to say, that for Singaporeans, the day was an important one, as is Election Day every two years in the US when Senate seats are contested, or every four years when the world holds its breath and wonders, “They’re not really going to elect that horse’s ass, are they?”2The world does watch our elections. Many have wondered aloud if Trump is an actual viable possibility; many wonder if we’ll be as stupid to elect another Bush as well. See? I’m honest on my bias. Though, if you think Trump is an actual candidate that deserves a vote, we need to discuss our friendship.
For the expats, however, who have no right nor need to go to the polling booths, 11 September meant something else; a free day off.
So how best to celebrate our largess of a free day off and honor the political system of our host country? We left for Thailand.
Our choice was made of two parts – spontaneity, not my strongest suit, which did not exactly serve me well in our last foray into Thailand; and disgust at the ever-present haze that has lingered around Singapore’s lamp poles like a T.S. Eliot poem3my favorite, I daresay. My Canadian friend, Emma4maple syrup, y’all! and her husband booked a resort stay in Phuket, she invited us along and after some internal discussion – luxury resorts aren’t usually our bag, baby – we decided to go for it, and spent a long weekend on Naka Island, just off the “mainland” of Phuket.
Phuket, well, let’s establish something here, Americans – the “ph” is not pronounced “f” and the island is not called “Fuckit.” The “phu” is pronounced “poo”, so “poo-ket”. Are we all together? We did not spend a week on “fuck it island”. I might have said “fuck it” a few times, but, we did not spend a week on “fuck it island”.
Linguistic stylings aside, technically we did not spend a weekend on Phuket island, either. We flew into the famed island and then took car and speedboat to a small tropical, not-private-but-close, island just off the east shore of Phuket in the Andaman Sea. Our “ambassador” picked us up dockside in a large buggy5golf cart and invited us, once on the island, to ring a large gong as a ritual of good luck. Expecting a more tinny, high pitched sound, I was immediately relaxed and pleased to hear the large instrument ring with a deep bell tone, low and melodic. I made a wish, and then struck the metal disc once again with more abandon, announcing my arrival with some measure of style.
Would you expect anything different?
The resort was pure luxury. Our villa, a very private bedroom with a view of the mangroves outside, included our own private pool. After meeting Emma and her husband for drinks and tapas at the bar down the street, I took full advantage of the private pool; I stripped down bare as a newborn babe and jumped in. Born free, baby. Born free.
We got massages at a generous 50% off the regular inflated rates, but enjoyed them all the same. Tiny Thai women worked oil and aloe6I’ll explain later in our bodies, an “aromatheraphy” that, while relaxing, left us well marinated and ready to be thrown on the grill. Beverly bicycled around the island. I read in the infinity pool, a clear blue sky above Phuket doing wonders for my soul, not to mention my respiratory system.
And, we kayaked.
Encouraged by the staff that the kayak trip completely around the island only took an hour, we borrowed some Hobies and jumped in the water. Ill-prepared, unfortunately, as we forgot to reapply sunblock after jumping into the pool/sea. Hence the aloe. The trip was more of a two-hour paddle, we think we finished in about an hour & forty-five minutes, including a stop on a larger beach on the back side of the island to buy coconut water and chat up the locals.
Naka is also home to a fishing village, we saw a few crews on their boats working their nets, and swung wide around. On the far side beach, we found locals hawking jet ski rides7Beverly: “Do they think we can’t make it?” as well as a number of stands with beer, water, fruit, booze and food. Not having brought water8you are not prepared!, we stopped on the beach and bought some coconuts and relaxed and recharged in the shade. One of the jet ski operators, Rocky, touted his services for snorkeling and spelunking in the nearby limestone caves. We mentioned maybe tomorrow9this is pre-sunburn and he handed us his card.
“This is my wife’s number, my number, my wife’s number,” he said, pointing at the three phone numbers on his card. “One wife, two phones,” he quickly added.
We didn’t use Rocky’s services over the weekend – we were too burnt as I’ve mentioned/alluded to – but Emma was able to use Rocky’s name to talk one of the jet ski rentals at the resort down a few hundred baht for their ride the following day.
Back in the water, we paddled around the south side of Naka Island. White, puffy clouds floated in a clear blue sky, except for a yellow, disgusting mass to the south. Even there, hundreds of kilometers north of Malaysia, we could see the Sumatran haze clouding over the southern part of the peninsula. We paddled on.
I used to run the mile in high school – four laps around a 400m track. The third lap is always the toughest, the fatigue of the race settling in, but without being able to see the end as clearly. Such as it was as we paddled north, against the outgoing tide and wind, earning ourselves some vicious burns in the unrelenting sun. The penultimate stretch finished as we crossed the dock we had landed on the night before, the tide and current becoming so vicious we both felt as if we weren’t moving at times. Once we crossed the dock, we took a moment, gathered ourselves in some small shade and rowed out the final 400 meters or so, triumphantly beaching our crafts to a waiting staff member and another guest who was curious about how long it took us.
Spent and sunburned, we showered by the pool and jumped in, letting the shade and cooler salt water pool relax us.
The sunburns were bad and we paid for our adventure and foolishness in pain. The massages helped, as did the private pool, the on-site spa that provided us freshly cut aloe, and the cheap10for a luxury resort, normal-ish to the US booze. We hit our relaxation level and soaked in the wonderfulness that is doing nothing, and having nothing to do.
But the world moved around us.
In Singapore, the elections came and went and new challenges appear for those invested in the local politics. The results were not immediately clear to us, but continue to be interesting to follow none the less. Back home in the United States, though, we heard terrible news – the Valley Fire, a byproduct of the terrible drought that California has been struggling with, ravaged an area close to where we grew up, and threatened the lake house of my parents’. They were able to get out safely, though, for a few frantic minutes it was hard to get reliable information. Once the picture had come clear, the news was horrifying. Middletown, a town which I had been through so many times, had ran track in, and against, had played football against, was no more. The fire simply flattened the town like a wave. Hidden Valley Lake, the town in which parents’ house is in was spared total destruction, but got hit hard as well. As of this writing, the fire is still raging largely un-contained, and threatens many other communities.
I watched the news unfold on Twitter and what little I could find in local news outlets. I drained my battery searching for any information if Hidden Valley stood or not. Desperate searches, largely in vain, by someone halfway around the world.
Thinking of the fires raging across California, looking at the yellow/grey haze that lingers outside our apartment window, I can’t help but feel all the connections between us. There are issues with our planet that endanger us all, some of which we have clearly played a part in creating. Denying the existence of climate change is dangerous and smacks of short-sighted stupidity and/or greed.
Maybe it’s all connected, after all. The politics, the haze, the forest fires raging across my home state. The rising levels of water that pulled against us as our arms burned trying to gain purchase and shade. The vile deflections and double talk of so many short sighted arch-conservative politicians, the terrible xenophobia of the Trumps of the world. Maybe we’re starting to figure some of this out. Maybe this is the third lap, the penultimate stretch when fatigue meets the ebb of hope.
Maybe. Maybe I just need another vacation.