Koh Chang: "A Mixture"

Koh Chang

Trat Province


December 14, 2004


Dear Family and Friends

I am sitting on the restaurant deck that overlooks a small private beach. I am watching the sun disappear into the Gulf of Siam.  I am on Koh Chang, (Elephant Island), the second largest in Thailand, off the eastern peninsula close to the border with Cambodia.

The sea is calm, only a few gentle ripples tickle the sand; the bright red sun seems to be resting against a misty white screen.

( A young waiter just came to the table and asked me if I wanted a drink. We spoke for a minute. He asked me if I had a girlfriend. I said no. I asked him the same question. He said he doesn't like girls, Thai or otherwise. He only likes white men. I smiled. I guess he'll have to try another table. )

I can still taste the late lunch of vegetable fried rice and a platter of cashew nuts. The vegetable fried rice was good: some chopped carrots, kale, scallions, bits of fried egg, and slices of cucumber and tomato. I am getting more generous with the chili sauce. Seems like a meal is no fun anymore without just a little "kick."

Here's something you can try at home: The unsalted cashews were lightly sauteed in oil and presented on a platter with a garnish of delicately sliced scallions, sliced red chilies, and a wedge of lime. I sprinkled everything on top. Planters was never like this.

And speaking of food (again!), last night on the beach, while watching the fire-stick dancers, Mariah and I had an order of spring rolls and a large fillet of grilled tuna covered with vegetables and sauce.

Who the heaven is Mariah?  You think I know?  We only spent the night together and this morning she took off for a bungalow on the beach. OK..OK...Before you get all excited, it is more accurate to say that we shared the same room last night. 

Here's the whole story: The bus ride from Bangkok south to Trat was a long five and a half hour pain in the butt. Then a transfer to a "taxi" for a ride to the ferry pier. Then a forty-five minute ferry ride to the island, and then another "taxi" to the not so great hotel where we stayed for one night.

Maria, 26, and I met on the taxi to the ferry. As we were getting out of the taxi, I said, "Mariah, let's blow." She asked, "How do you know that my name means 'the wind'?" I bit my tongue and held back on The Kingston Trio. She's 26, remember? I just said, "Some of my friends think I should be on Jeopardy."

While we were waiting for the ferry we had a great chat.  Mariah lives in B.C. (that's British Columbia, Canada, for my geographically challenged friends) and she plays the piano!  She just completed an advanced course and examination.  She plays Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Bartok.  I questioned her closely about her playing; I let her talk for a while before I leaned over and whispered my "secret" in her ear.

Mariah gave me a great hint on Chopin's Raindrop Prelude.  The middle section, like many of Chopin's works, gets more dramatic than the calm and sensitive opening and closing sections.  She compared the middle section of the Prelude to a storm. Why didn't I think of that?  Raindrops.  Storm.  Seems so obvious.

I felt I needed to respond with a hint of my own.  The middle "stormy" section begins very softly and slowly with low, two-note intervals that form a very long, serious melodic line, like the distant rumble before a storm. This I likened to a cello duet.  Mariah agreed and was happy for my contribution.  On the ferry I proposed we both take a risk.  She consented.  So, we shared a nice dinner and the hotel room.  End of story.

Either I am losing my touch or the grey hair is scaring them off.  Speaking of hair, many years ago a white hair or two appeared in my otherwise totally black full beard and head of hair.  Al, my barber in Boston, quipped that it is a dash of salt in the pepper.  The dash became a sprinkling, a squall and eventually an old fashioned Nor'easter.  Now, the white beard is gone, and the top is sort of your basic snow cone.  Breyer's Ice Cream? Those little dots of vanilla bean?

Then there is the matter of my teeth. Sometimes, when I am talking to strangers on the telephone, I describe myself as still having all of my hair and most of my teeth. Well, my dear friends, "most" may soon be an exaggeration.

Now you have also read of my debilitating leg pain earlier this fall.  And don't be alarmed, I have been less than 100% for the last two weeks.  First, a mild fever brought on by what X-rays proved to be some impacted "food" in my bowels. Rx: A packet of "Swift" and some gross milky strawberry stuff and a box of prunes.

This week, a sinus cold leaving me very cranky and listless.  I will be OK.  Rx: Fresh squeezed OJ and a bowl of noodle soup every morning.

You see where I'm going with this?  Yes, Jan, it's time to get real.  Time to make some modifications in how and when I travel.  Sometimes enthusiasm and ambition needs to be tinctured with caution and self-awareness.  I expect that my trips may be shorter and my "hanging around" time may be longer.  What's my rush, anyway? So I had a week of sleep and finally some beach time.

I also took a Thai Fun all day boat trip.  We visited four small pristine islands for swimming and snorkeling. Lunch served on board.  This is indeed a beautiful spot.  I recommend it to all you "second honeymooners."  I plan to fly back to Bangkok, and then north again to visit my friends in Nang Rong for birthday and New Year's Eve celebrations.

Then. Myanmar? Stay tuned.



PS Last night I met Michelle, 29 from England.  She also was just hanging around, nursing bad bruises from a motorbike accident.  She is traveling alone but will meet up with friends and her brother in a few days.  She made herself a promise: an around-the-world trip before she is thirty.  She is keeping her promise.  As we like to say in Thailand, "No day, but today."

PPS By the end of the second week of medications, doctors,headaches, and fever...I was getting depressed.  I thought, "Maybe I should just go home to my warm bed and my hot American shower.  And then I remembered, "I am home."  My apartment is rented.  My business is transferred.  And I bought a one-way ticket for an indefinite journey.  So wherever I am, I am "home."  And I am happy to be here.


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