The best (and perhaps the only good) thing about boat travel with Asians is that they hate the outdoors. So when I boarded the cruiser to PhiPhi, 30 minutes after it was already to have departed, the sundeck was completely unoccupied.
The VIP room on the other hand, had been standing room only for hours. Don’t be seduced by its alluring name, the VIP room is a place to keep the Koreans who can’t swim. The windows are heavily tinted so there’s no chance of accidentally catching a glance at the scenery, and it’s climate controlled. They herd them in there, slap on a Mr. Bean video and lock the doors. Everyone in this room also wears a life vest and this is not at the instruction of the staff, just personal preference.
VIP passengers only emerge twice during the two hour journey. Once for the obligatory titanic photo….(ok 30 photo) and once to take photo of “famous bay from famous Hollywood movie, the bee-sha, Leonardo, hope you’ve seen it.” A third trip would be in order had the cruise line not had the foresight to keep the VIP concession stand fully stocked with strawberry Pocky and seaweed strips.
This bay is a really big deal and they start danglin the bait about it right away. Follow up announcements are made so frequently that you start to wonder if you’re on the wrong boat because they haven’t said a thing about Phi Phi. The bay itself is unbelievable, they are not exaggerating about that but the confusing part is, you never actually go to the bay. The boat approaches the channel into the bay, cuts the engine for a full 37 seconds (I took a video to time it) then revs it back up and takes a hard right completely bypassing the bay.
Those 37 seconds are the equivalent of the Times Square ball drop for the passengers of the elusive and exclusive VIP room. These 37 seconds are the only thing they came of the trip for…..it is their dream….and they go after it.
After the excitement of posing for famous photo with famous bay, people are really off their game and troll around the boat feigning for more. This gives me the opportunity to surreptitiously slip into the “get me off this boat” seat directly to the left of the drawbridge for a little game of what I call”to wee or not to wee.” I watch people cautiously approach the bathrooms and use racial profiling to assess the likelihood of them using said bathroom once they’ve seen the interior. Today’s score is 3-1 in favor of no.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Well the munchkins and I literally have 1,000 pictures of our last day together and only one word for the lot of them: FAMOUS.
They always put on a show but this one was extra special and “supa famous”. (For those of you that have visited Phuket, you know that’s a buzz word they throw around for everything, ah and this street, you know? Supa famous. Now to see restaurant supa famous, ok take photo now, sunset….famous. Don’t even get them started on supa famous movie, The beach)
As luck would have it, their social worker was there today for my famous send off and spoke English so she was able to explain to them that I will be gone for 3 weeks but I am coming back.
Day 3: Attack of the Angry Birds It has been raining here in Phuket for almost 2 full weeks, and when I say raining , I mean all day, all night, violent winds, no sun. Yesterday the wind was so strong it ripped my poncho off my body Incredible Hulk style as I was driving. I was feeling pretty miserable for a few seconds until I got to a stoplight and spotted this bunch.
Needless to say the weather is making everyone around here “wary cranky”, especially the munchkins. Its time to get out some aggression. I made this last night and wasn’t sure how they’d like it until I ran up and hit Ben over the head with it while he was cooking. It both terrified and enraged him, so I knew they were gonna love it.
I sat them down in a circle and ran around hitting them all with my angry bird so they could learn from my shining example that today would be all about violence. After I got some good hits in I let them make their own. We were going to color them….but they were way to anxious to get revenge on me to waste time with that.
After a couple of (somewhat organized) relay races and contests, it was time for all out war, every angry bird and chick for themselves.
But the best thing about today was…..IT FINALLY STOPPED RAINING!
Mother’s Day is a big event in Thailand, so naturally, they take 4 days to celebrate it. For my kids in town, a long weekend means a shopping trip to Bangkok or a sleepover with junk food and new computer games, but its a long, lonely weekend for too many of my little munchkins in Koh Siray with no mommies or daddies.
As I was leaving last Friday (not to return until the following Wednesday) this little chunky monkey grabbed me around the waist and said, “Teacha sleep here? 4 day long time” By here, he meant the orphanage next to the school. Over 100 munchkins from my school live there as a result of losing their families to the Tsunami or being removed from abusive homes.
I haven’t kept everyone updated on all the changes around here this summer, but I’ve left the high school in Phuket Town where I taught last year (Ben still teaches there) to work at a small school on the neighboring island of Koh Siray. It’s less than 10 minutes from my old school but worlds away in terms of socioeconomics. Those of you who have seen it can attest that it looks like The Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King and just like the Elephant Graveyard, you really don’t want to be there after dark.
Koh Siray is home to the Sea Gypsies, a migrant community with its own language and religion who rarely use currency or integrate themselves into society. This means their children do not attend school. My school has encouraged these kiddos to join classes (something that would never be allowed in town due to extremely prejudice attitudes towards the migrant community) but its a steep learning curb as almost none of them can read or write and many parents prefer their children to work instead of learn.
The Sea Gypsy Village itself is a makeshift settlement with no running water or sanitation where families live 10 to a room. Domestic violence and sexual abuse are common. Not a day has gone by at school that a child doesn’t gasp and cower away from a high five for fear that I’m going to hit them. But once they’ve decided that I’m not going to hurt them, I can’t get those little snuggle bunnies off me, they want hugs and kisses so desperately.
The orphanage in Koh Siray is self sufficient in terms of funding. They can provide the kids with decent clothes, food and healthcare but the need for love and affection oozes out of their little puppy dog faces each day when its time to go home. At 4pm, they sprint towards me at the school gate screaming, ” TEACHA ONE PLEASE!!!!!” (Goodbye hug)
Hugs and play dates with Teacha are free but small gifts go a long way in communicating love to them as our verbal communication is somewhat limited. If you would like to donate and Make a Munchkins Day, I’ll buy them a book or toy and go play with them on your behalf, because let’s face it, their present is only fun if it comes with someone to play with.
I am also saving and collecting donations locally to do a weekend activity each month. Today we did “Bracelets and Bubbles” which was a big hit. In true crasian form, they wore down the battery on both my camera and my ipad from “take photo” and I left with a broken shoe, 4 oddly placed “Elsa” braids, and no voice left.
I wish on Mothers Day that they had good mommies to buy them Frozen pajamas and tuck them into bed in their very own room, but at least tonight they will go to bed with bracelets on their wrists and bubbles around their neck, knowing that Teacha will be back tomorrow with more hugs.
The words “easy” and “reliable” have no place in a conversation regarding Thai transportation. Bangkok in particular is quite the Bermuda Triangle of well laid transport plans. I have never made it out of Bangkok on the day or via the mode of transport originally intended. However, last week I was on an especially tight schedule for my BKK visit and there was no margin for error. My options were, beat Bangkok or beat it out of Thailand.
I’ve written before about the ever persistent, original hustlers of Phuket, the cab drivers. What I haven’t told you is that when they yell, “Where you go?” they actually need to know.
Anyone who’s visited me in Thailand can attest that the second you get in a cab, it’s as if the driver is as new to the country as you are. If your desired destination isn’t a duty free outlet or Chinese run gold jewelry store, then its a complete mystery to them and you’re unlikely to get there anytime soon, and certainly not without stopping at the duty free first.
You may be thinking, wait..isn’t it their job to drive around the island to well known tourist locations all day, every day?…..yes, yes it is. I’ve tried to find loopholes around what I thought was a language barrier by brining the address and directions in Thai, maps, putting them on the phone for turn by turn directions in Thai. Doesn’t help.
They fain understanding of your destination to get you into the cab “Ahhh yes, ok, ok I know” yet five minutes later we’re pulled over on the side of the road meeting the guy’s cousin to discuss where this mysterious “airport” might be hiding.
It doesn’t matter how many well know landmarks you throw at them or how many times they must have visited this destination before. Their mental capacity for directions is like an etch-e-sketch board. As soon as they reach a destination, they shake it off and start from scratch. There is a beach in Phuket? Must be new.
Even knowing where you’re going isn’t a sure thing as I discovered on what I thought would be a straightforward cab ride home from the Phuket airport one evening. Despite heavy insistence from the driver that he was familiar with and in fact lives in Phuket Town, 5 minutes into the drive he started to change his tune. He suggests several hotels near the airport I might like to go to instead.
To illustrate the level of directional impairment we’re dealing with I’d like you to consider the following factors:
1. There is one road out of the airport. One. Go left and you’ll be leaving the island, go right and its straight on til midnight to the center of Phuket Town. If he’s purely guessing he’s still got a 50/50 shot of accidentally getting to my house.
2. I’ve given him a copy of my utility bill, in Thai that has my full address, district, subdivision etc.
3. I’ve given him verbal directions in (albeit broken) Thai that he claims to have understood prior to me getting in the cab.
4. None of this is necessary because…oh yeah, I KNOW HOW TO GET THERE.
This solid base of information does nothing to the alleviate the drivers growing concern over reaching the destination and he continues to try and negotiate a change in plans. Flustered by my refusal to just give up and stay in a hotel, he gets on the phone and calls several relatives until one answers, then passes me the phone.
“Hello, miss? What hotel you want to go?”
Not go to hotel, go to house in Phuket Town.
“Ahhhh, ok ok, I tell him.”
The driver is still displeased with this answer and starts yelling into the phone “Mai dai, Mai chai” (cannot, not correct) and hangs up. I have no idea where we stand at this point, but a few minutes later he pulls off the highway; not a good sign of understanding the directions.
We arrive in the driveway of a house that’s not mine. The driver turns off the car, says nothing to me and gets on the phone. This is one of those times when you start to think……so this is it. This is my last day on earth. It’s raining of course, no other backdrop would be suitable for an ill fated, 2am foreign excursion.
I start to think, “Is Unsolved Mysteries still on? In the dramatic reenactment of my disappearance, will they give my character bangs? I don’t remember what any of my yearbook photos look like. Maybe the greatest unsolved mystery is why high school yearbook photos are the go to solution for tracking down missing persons in their 30s.”
Side-note, the driver and I have not been alone on this journey. There has been a heavily pregnant woman and a foul smelling dog occupying the passenger seat the entire time. Neither has moved or been acknowledged. Soon a shirtless man with an Angry Birds umbrella come up and knocks on my window.
“ES-coooose me, my driver not know, how to go Phuket Town.”
Ok, but I know how to go to Phuket Town.
“OH! (Thai surprise) you know how to go?!” (As if this information hasn’t been readily available all along)
He turns his attention back to the driver and more yelling ensues. I tune them out and stare blankly at the lady and dog who are also numb to the situation. I bet they were like me once…..just trying to get home. They rode around so long that they became resigned to the idea of home and took up residence in the front seat of this gold 90s Buick. What a life.
The argument ends with slammed doors and me being kicked out of the cab. So there I am standing in the rain and the only thing I know about my current location is that it’s nowhere near my house. The man doesn’t offer me his umbrella but says, “ok, I think I call a-na-tha drivah fah you.”
I made it home eventually thanks to a nice man named Joe who was sympathetic to the struggle I’d just endured and assured me I would never have to call a taxi in Phuket again only, “call Joe, tell Joe where you go, and Joe GO!” Thus we agreed upon a new rule for Thai taxi travel, “Joe no go, I no go”, and I haven’t.
Kate dug up an extensive list of Thai superstitions (minus the 10 to 15 I’ve added to it for my own convenience). Number 8 is my favorite, Baldies are sneaky and flirty. That’s you Bruce! I didn’t know you had been to Thailand…….very sneaky indeed.