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| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


September 14, 2007

Phuket Island, Thailand

Tom McLaughlin

The tsunami should come again and wipe Patong Beach off the face of the earth and be done with it. Everybody remembers the surge of water because it was played over and over again on the news with people clinging to trees, rafts and each other. Well, a repeat certainly is in order minus the loss of life.

The beach is situated in a "U" shape cove with the town and resort located at the bottom. The sand is filthy. Litter, debris, bottles and other flotsam accumulate each day until it reminds one of a garbage dump.

Coupled with this, entrepreneurs have set out beach chairs and have "cleaned" their own little spaces. Flags of various countries fly at each stand as if humans want to congregate with their own species. They provide drinks and the recliners because nobody, I mean nobody, would spread a towel or blanket on that grime.

Behind the "beach" is a road that transverses the bottom of the "U" and across from that a whole array of shops. The people who work there stalk and pounce on tourists to the point that the beach begins to look good.

Tailor shops will construct a complete suit for you at about $80 and probably lower if you bargain. They also sew shirts and most certainly a loincloth if you wish. The problem is they won't let you alone, following you down the street if you show the slightest interest in their wares.

Restaurants also line the street with young guys and gals jumping in front of you, thrusting a menu in your face, or gabbing your hand to look at freshly caught seafood.

One often unwillingly goes face to face with a lobster or huge crab. Fighting them off (the waiters, not the crabs) takes a great deal of shouting and pulling away hoping your arm is intact.

The same goes for the T-shirt shops. They sell the most disgusting phrased shirts that would turn the most hardened writers of obscenity green with envy. I had to go into several shops to find one for my collection that was suitable for public display. And, again, at an instant glance, one is dragged in for a purchase.

Then there are the massage parlors better known as brothels. Young girls, who one would expect to be in junior high school, yell out Massage! Massage! to any male passing by much to the consternation of the wife/girlfriend they are with. They also offer any kind of carnal services desired as the mothers of young teen boys try to cover their ears. You just can't get away from them.

There are also countless bars. One in particular blared country music with young Thai girls dancing on the bar arm in arm. They were dressed in white cowboy hats, boots and skirts trying to sing along with the words. It was a hilarious sight.

I was in the "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" mode and sat down and talked to one of the ladies of the evening. Most were frustrated when they learned I didn't drink and just nursed a coke. The idea is to get the customer tipsy on five or six beers and then present him with a bill for ten. The half dozen beers are entered into the computer while the money for other four monies is split between the bartender and the "waitress."

The prostitute and I talked for a while. She spoke magnificent English having spent time in London. Her physique was that of black African on one side and Thai on the other resulting in a haunting beauty. She related she had saved enough to purchase a piece of land in northeast Thailand and was saving to build a house.

>From my perception, these ladies are not the outcasts of society but are regarded as one would a teacher, plumber or banker. As I sat and chatted, I did enjoy the "holier than thou" dirty looks from the white tourist ladies who thought I was negotiating a price.

The main tourist population comes from Australia. They have moved from Bali after the bombing of hotels, their embassy and in protest of the sentencing of one of their nationals to 20 years in jail on a trumped up drug charge. Many had assumed that this was a "family" resort as I have seen several with small children in strollers with many little ones tagging along. However, there is nothing for these small tykes to do. Almost all I talked to, from retired couples to family starters stated they would never come back.

And I can't blame them.

A large Swedish expatriate community resides in the area. They come from a country where winter lasts 11 months and booze costs a fortune, yet they still have a major alcohol problem. I have had many conversations with bleary blue-eyed, blonde haired Swedes having their morning drink which is very, very cheap in Thailand. The local English language newspaper even advertises AA meetings in the Swedish language.

Another bemusing factor is when Americans try to disguise themselves as Canadians because of some perceived threat. I informed everyone I was from Washington, D.C., and had no problems except from European travelers. When confronted, these Yankee Doodle Dandy's still insist they are from the far north even though I can immediately tell they are from the good ole USA.

Why am I so embittered? I visited this place 30 years ago and there was nothing in the way of development. A few of us slept on the beach. A lady caught and cooked a fish dinner served over rice. To me, it was the essence of heaven on earth. This memory is now destroyed and I am angry about it. But there will be new good memories to replace this lost one and look forward to each and every one of them.



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