Paul woke in the Thai hostel at 6.30 am, or rather was woken at that unearthly hour by the motorway above which he and Andrew had been ‘sleeping’ for the last few days. He went to the floor below to make a coffee for Andrew, a rare occurrence as he was never normally up before his partner.
Well not in the morning!
As he rooted through flaxseed, linseed and milk produced from organic rice picked by a chanting virgin, he attempted to blot out the conversation coming from a small group of young travellers. A hotchpotch of wannabe hippies adorned in tie-die garments and designer trainers, seated quite unnecessarily on the floor.
As he waited for the decrepit kettle to boil he couldn’t resist seating himself at one of the many empty tables and indulge in a spot of earwigging, (whilst pretending to read a pamphlet about Thai Boxing.) The flyer happened to be written in Thai, a language with which he was familiar, if not quite fluent. He could count to ten, order a couple of beers and some crispy pork, but that was about his limit. The hip guys on the floor didn’t notice his pretence, they were too busy being pretentious. Even above the traffic’s meditative roar he could hear everything they were saying.
‘The thing is they don’t get us’, one young Englishman was explaining, ‘diversity, acceptance, it’s alien to them.’
‘You’re right,’ answered a girl, so Paul assumed, with turquoise hair and pierced everything,
‘They are not here. They are not with us. It’s up to us to force them to.’
Another chap sporting huge wholes in his earlobes through which one could pass a tennis ball chipped in,
‘We feel the same. Whenever we try to speak they don’t get us. It makes we unhappy man! Why can’t they get woke?’
Paul looked for the guy’s partner but he didn’t seem to have one. It seemed he was the we. When Paul were younger he was sure this would have been diagnosed as schizophrenia. But who was we to argue?
Paul listened to some more of the banality as the kettle noisily attempted to boil Andrew’s water at the rate of a sleeping snail. As he did so he realised the ‘they’, about which these condescending pricks were discussing, was in fact him. Well, him and anyone above the age of forty. It appeared he and his generation were not awake – whereas the colourful group having the pow-wow on the floor were truly ‘woke’.
Paul had come across the term only recently. Apparently it had come into the popular vernacular via the United States, which he secretly thought was rarely a good thing for any language. It meant being aware of all the social injustices that ‘man’ was ignorant of. Racism, sexism, homophobia – stuff like that. Paul had his own definition of the term, he defined it as the act of being pretentious about how much one cares about a social issue. To make oneself look like a deep thinker whilst wearing Nike sneakers.
It was bullshit in other words.
And grammatically incorrect.
How was it possible for someone to describe themselves as ‘woke’ because they had backpacked around the trendy parts of Thailand? Surely The Buddha would have preferred the word enlightenment. But then what did he know?
Paul began to get heated, he wished the water in the bloody kettle would do the same, or he felt he might throw a punch at one of the cross-legged idiots to truly wake them up. How rude he thought.
He was not a racist, a mysogonist, in fact any kind of ‘ist’, other than a narcissist perhaps. But that was part of his job and an element of his character he was in love with, so he wouldn’t be changing that.
He and Andrew recycled everything possible, quite religiously, and had practically adopted acceptance as their religion.
He had encountered homophobia all his life and still managed not to judge the fools that adopted that kind of behaviour. That was their prejudice, it was up to them if they wanted to appear stupid. So being lectured to by a group of twenty-somethings who were organically attached to their latest IPhones was anathema to him. He now felt awake enough to start an illuminated punch up with these benighted gobshites on the floor. ‘Woke’ or not, they had probably slept during their carbon emitting long-haul flight on route to Thailand.
The kettle, having more sense than the patronising children, had finally woken and come to the boil. Just in time to stop Paul from boiling over. He made Andrew’s unorganic coffee, slipped in some artificial powdered milk and left the fools in their circle of pomposity. As he did so he apologised as he ‘accidentally’ tripped over the blue-haired girl’s huge carbon footprint and spilt a little of the brew over the floor, splashing the dickhead with the holes for ears. Well it was easily done, after all, he was barely awake!
A little later and he and Andrew were taking their regular power walk around the perimeter of Chiang Mai’s old city. They both saw this as a counterbalance to the culinary excesses which would inevitably occur later in the day. Not to mention the ‘Chang’ beer, which was de rigeur on any of their trips to Thailand.
It was splendid exercise. They railed against modern culture as they walked among the ancient. When they hit the famous Tapae Gate, which had actually been reconstructed in the 1980’s to appear how it once did, Paul couldn’t help but smile thinking of the fools he’d encountered earlier who hadn’t even been thought of back then. They probably had little idea that The Thais had been awake to the fact that it would be worthwhile to hold on to their heritage. They weren’t interested.
He and Andrew took their lives in their hands as they stepped onto one of the rare pedestrian crossings along the city’s encircling moat. The usual practice was to stride confidently into the road and hope that the speeding vehicles would stop, or at least slow down. It was always a dicey situation. This time the dice didn’t roll in their favour as a huge white Range Rover thingy switched lanes and hurtled towards them, lights flashing. They lurched back rapidly as the car missed them by inches. Paul gave an impolite sign to the driver and shouted ‘idiot’ – or something like that! He regretted his action immediately. One thing he knew from his many jaunts to the East was never to make the Thais lose face. They could go from placid to incandescent at the drop of a chopstick. He worried briefly that the driver would stop and come at him with a baseball bat. They had witnessed a similar scene from their balcony only days earlier. Fortunately the ‘driver’ was in such a hurry he didn’t notice. Only in Thailand, he mused, should one feel truly terrified about confronting someone in the wrong.
Road rage seemed all the rage!
After a delicious lunch of Khao Soi, the signature dish of Chiang Mai, which they ate in a non-descript garden for under two quid, Paul and Andrew decided on a massage. They had discovered an oasis of tranquility behind one of Chiang Mai’s stunning temples where they could be pummelled cheaply with no happy ending, other than the one they wanted.
It had not been a good idea for Paul.
In fact the ending was almost disastrous.
As the old lady with exceptionally strong hands kneaded his lower back his bowels woke. He held on for dear life as she then turned him over, parted his legs and began on his thighs.
If she wasn’t careful she was in for more than a good tip!
He turned to Andrew and informed him of his dilemma,
’Oh no! I’ve had the drop love!’
’Shit,’ said Andrew, not really taking Paul’s mind off the situation, ‘you can’t.’
’I can’t help it,’
His poor masseuse looked most confused.
’Relax, relax,’ she intoned gently.
Not the best advice she could have given at that precise moment. The last thing Paul knew he could do was relax. He held on for dear life, much to his Andrew’s amusement, and sighed with relief when the old girl bashed him a couple of times on the bonce and said her ‘Kop Khun Kha’, The Thai ladies thank you.
’Kop Khun Krap’ he replied, the gentlemen’s version, and made straight for the gentlemens. He was just in time as the noodles had now truly awakened. It wasn’t pleasant.
A couple of hours later and the boys were in a tranquil garden they had discovered in the heart of the old city.
A small hostel had appeared out of nowhere on one of their ambles, a splendid oasis from the traffic and the ‘Eat, Pray, Wank’ crowd.
They sat for a couple of hours eating fresh avocados they had bought from the market.
Meditated on life’s conundrums for a while and prayed for one good night’s sleep.
Then Andrew painted Paul in watercolour as the latter wanked off lyrically into his notebook!
Paul couldn’t help but smile.
Perhaps it was contagious. He knew they needed to make a quick escape from the hostel in which they were staying or they may become ‘woke-ist!’.
Or worse still – truly ‘woke.’