June 14: Processing about Orlando and travelling in Phuket.
My solo trip to Phuket has been awesome. It was important for me, I think, to be travelling alone. Today, I ended up not doing too too much. Essentially, the news of the Orlando shooting, as well as the suspect individual entering U of Toronto campus had me feeling really down about the state of LGBTQ rights everywhere. In the Philippines I feel scared to be open about bisexuality because of how religious so many people in this country are, and the comments I have heard around me. This does contribute to a certain level of isolation for me and a very real sense of how far we still have to go towards simply treating each other as human beings, all equally deserving of basic respect and dignity. Anyway, the point is, the news that 50 people were killed in Orlando in a gay bar hit me hard and harder because of the distance between me and my community-family who might understand why this feels so close to home for me. Being in Thailand, travelling alone, has meant that there is no one near by that I can talk to frankly about how I am feeling. I guess I needed a slow day to process.
June 16th: recap on my 2 full, 2 half days in Phuket.
Today I will recap my time in Phuket as my heart just wasn’t into writing down my trip before now. The first day I spent settling-in. I took a short walk on Kata beach and then went running. I didn’t quite realize it when I began running but the beach ended with a rocky formation blocking it off from the rest of the coast. Meaning, my running was kind of cut short. So instead of turning around, I decided to climb around the wall of rocks. I didn’t manage to get all the way across but I did get some distance away from the crowd and enjoyed the view from a more secluded spot. It’s not hard to understand why Phuket is such a popular destination: the beaches are spectacular. I then went walking around the main road to see what might good for diner. I found that in comparison to the rest of Thailand, prices in Phuket are completely inflated. I guess that was to be expected given that it is such a tourist destination. So I had diner at a decent place not far from the hotel. I then went to Surf Bar, an open terasse bar I had previously noticed (complete with one of those artificial wave makers for people to try their hand at “surfing” while catching a drink. Having a hard time visualizing? Check out my Instagram). There, I read my book and enjoyed just being on my own. On the other hand, I felt a bit silly about not taking full advantage of the night life. I went home at a decent time and hung out in bed finishing the chapter I had begun at the bar. I guess that’s just an honest account of travelling sometimes you just need slow boring days no matter how many exciting things there are to visit around you.
Day 2: Phi Phi islands
The second day, first full day, I had booked a boat took of the Phi Phi islands and it was magnificent. The first island where we stopped was a Reese Monkey island. There were so many of them and they were very cute but there was something upsetting about how people where throwing food at them and clearly they had grown dependent on this. I even saw one Monkey drinking a bottle of ice tea. Smart, obviously, but reduced to a sad dependency on tourism. We then went on to an other island with stellar snorkelling where we all jumped in the water and I got to see decent coral reefs but mostly hundreds of clown fish, so many In fact that I was swiming amongst them, having a hard time not hitting them as my arms propelled me forward. We stopped at two other islands, this time for their breath taking beaches and amazingly clear azure-blue water to swim and be merry. By the time I made it home I was pretty tired and ready to have diner and go to bed early.
Day 3: I made a new friend!
The second full day I explored the Kata beach area and went shopping. In the evening I went back to the surf bar and got to watch the artificial wave surfers. It’s pretty cool to watch really. A bar tender rushed over before I went to sit down as it had rained and found me a chair which was dry and we got to talking. I asked him if he was a surfer which is a valid assumption to make at a surf bar I think. He said he was and we chatted about the current quality of the waves etc. Basically, exchanging pleasantries. Aka is his name and we got along quite well. He is from Burma and came to Thailand many years ago to work. I never did find out how old he was, though I suspect he was a bit younger then me (23 maybe)? He needed to go back to work but proposed that we meet around 11pm at the end of his shift and have a drink and resume our conversation. It felt like a really innocuous proposition so I agreed. I met him around eleven after going for a delicious supper. It was a completely lovely evening. We had a drink at the bar and then he proposed that he bring me at the look out point on his motorbike. He seemed really chill and my gut feeling gave me the green light so I went for it. We grabbed 2 beers at the corner store and rode off. We then sat at this lovely view point over looking the ocean and the lit up coast line of Phuket in the quiet night. It was both beautiful and in that moment I realized, a great reprieve from Manila’s dirty expanse and never ending traffic, chaos and noise. Don’t get me wrong there is a thrill that comes with navigating that city, just like what excite newcomers to New York, I would imagine: it’s big, loud an imposing and has no mercy for small town folks. On the other hand, some quiet time really made me feel good. I enjoyed the time I spent with Aka that evening. Our conversation was interesting. I talked about social work, he talked about his hopes to work in the West or make enough money to buy a house back in Burma, return to his home and his family. That last part really broke my heart. There are millions of people on the move for work who sacrifice proximity to their loved ones for their wellbeing. It places people in an impossible situation and it’s heart breaking.
Somewhere in the midst of the evening we had discussed the possibility of meeting the next morning to go see Phuket’s Giant Buddha. Phuket has it own giant Buddha perched on one of the highest neighbouring points overlooking the city’s residents. It can be seen by most spots of the island. As a Buddhist, Aka explained that he likes to visit it for religious reasons and would be glad to share it’s magic with me, albeit, he understood it would have a different significance for me. I also inherited his hat in the course of the evening. I complimented him on it and asked where he had got it, because I lost mine recently and had been looking for a similar cap. He just gave it to me and said he had more. I will think of our lovely evening together everytime I wear it.
Unfortunately, Aka never came to meet with me the next morning to go see the big Buddha. That makes me really sad, but I am also resolved to celebrate and honour that one evening we spent together rather than to lean into the disappointment I feel. I will wear his cap with pride and do as I promised him, and take pictures of me wearing it in all the places I will travel this year.
The next day I had scheduled to be picked up by the shuttle van at 1:30 pm to go to the airport. I had expected to hang out with Aka so I got up early and did not make other plans. I waited in the open lobby of Kata Bai D inn where I stayed for over an hour but he never showed. However, in the process of waiting a girl in the lobby caught on that I was travelling alone and we started talking and she asked if I would like to make plans with her for the day. We actually had a blast.We rented a motor bike with the aim to go see the big Buddha once it became clear I wouldn’t be meeting up with Aka. However, we never made it to the Buddha. We saw the Buddha getting closer and closer but we never actually managed to find the road to get to this elusive Statue. We decided that this was a great metaphor for life and Buddhism and general: The road to the Buddha is elusive and along the way we learn that he was within us all along; that he cannot be found outside of ourselves.
We then got back to the inn right on time, I took the shuttle went to the airport, and flew to Bangkok. And now, I am homeward bound back to Manila!