There is a place by the sea my daughter knows.
She took me there and back in the last four days, away from the suffocating madness in the heart of town, and for her as a well-earned breather after a year of law-book swotting in case she be a judge or a prosecutor and before she starts as a practising lawyer (right there in the maddened heart of town still, if things don’t calm down within the next ten days or so – so that her existential question right now is: will the BTS stop at the Saladaeng [Red Pavilion, ironically] station?).
It’s a cluster of air-conditioned bungalows small and big amid pleasant greenery of the tropical kind, yet right by the beach, some four hundred kilometres south of Bangkok – the Bayview Beach Resort, just before Bankrut (barn kroot), the kind of place where five- to ten-month-pregnant men and sundry worn-out women – from souped-up plain Janes to desiccated Sino-Thai grannies in gaudy silk and rarefying curly hair –, as often as not burdened with overindulged feral brats, go to relax. Good, friendly service, your decent Thai seafood and what-not fare, free bicycles for rides in the almost flat surroundings, a swimming pool where I swear I saw two fully dressed women sink after dusk, the kind of swimming pool where a panel (in Thai) tells you to ‘Please shower before using the pool, especially if you wear a bathing costume’… Anyway, the beach was deserted for most of the day: guests only play in the water for a short hour in late afternoon, wetting their clothes, chasing crabs, writing their names on sand for the skies to remember, taking pictures of these and themselves before the tides of time blur them.
So I was mostly left alone to enjoy the sound of the waves under coconut tree shadow and the discomfort of too small a canvas chaise longue for my broad shoulders, fully dressed too as I know what invisible ultraviolet rays can do to a farang skin (I’ve come back with hands and a face as red as a guilt-ridden red Indian’s).
Until Saturday night, that is: when by 5pm I saw them setting up a podium on the sand, I knew, having translated Mad Dogs & Co, that I was in trouble. From 6pm to nearly midnight, it didn’t fail: the thump-thump-thump of the loudspeakers for a look thung performance left me no choice but to watch a brainless movie about music undergraduates on tv in our room. My daughter laughed and laughed at the puns I didn’t quite get. Well, folks, if you like the sound of the waves, go to Bayview by all means, but not on a weekend.
Meanwhile, I had force-fed myself with a heavy dose of Thai short stories: a couple of booklets by Binla Sankalakhiri, kindly offered by Vasana Chinvarakorn, which I promptly dismissed as arty ramblings for kids and clueless birds (you know the kind: Saint-Ex and Richard Bach), and two of the three issues I had brought along of Ra-hoo Om Jan, the ‘seasonal’ collection of short stories put out by the Kanokphong Foundation, which proved to be a waste of time. Quite a few of the texts collected here are not short stories by any standards, mere narrative texts, or pleas of one kind or another. Vol. 4 and Vol. 5 (in which Islam-herald Abdul Razak strikes again, this time at the level of loo commodities) were thoroughly disappointing. Bloodied but stubborn, I’ll find the time somehow to plod through Vol. 7, would it only be because – I peeked – there is a story in it by Paithoon Thanya, whose works are usually top level.
What happened of substance in those uneventful days apart from the tussle with the printed word? Quite a lot. Quite a lot in my head and outside. I came to some decisions. I also rode a bicycle for the first time in half a century (since my heart flutter at 14 killed my hopes of ever winning the Tour de France), had a crepe with i-teem (ice cream) for the first time in three decades at least, a splendid seafood dinner at Noo Pho-chana (an on-the-sand restaurant without ambient muzac at Bankrut I highly recommend), and another lengthy, spicy one nearby with the family of a friend of my daughter’s where I had the opportunity to expound on the plight of Thai society with a local businessman – on a lawn, under candlelight and a half moon, in the property of a former financial grandee of dictatorship times, while the frazzle in one corner of the sky foretold the downpour of the next morning.
Coming and going, we were lucky: no redshirt barrage, only the hassle of finding TOT natural gas stations every hundred kilometres or so to feed the half-breed (gas and petrol) my daughter drove.
Altogether, a much needed break.
I had time to reflect on personal affairs and current tidings. I left depressed and pessimistic, thinking the end was near and bloody. I come back with a more positive outlook: somehow, a compromise solution will prevail, that will solve nothing but save faces yet will prevent immediate bloodshed. The threat of a ‘clean-up’ tonight is invigorating bullshit – on both sides.
Now I hear the red shirts have changed their stripes to confound their foes. So what should the ‘no-colours’ crowd that opposes them with distinctive yellowish hues do, then? Well, it’s obvious: wear red.
PS: Oh yes, by the way, on the way we stopped to invite the infamous Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres hermit of Phetchaburi to lunch. We met after a minor accident that had us spend some time in a car repair shop. He drank beer while we ate, then wolfed down our hor mok thalei leftovers, and wouldn’t let us give him a lift back to his house. Claims Le Seuil didn’t pay him the four hundred plus Euros they owe him for the past year. Not a word on his current writings, if there are any. Must have been a bad day for the bard. We left him in peace on the way back.