Generated Paradise!

Paul woke in paradise at 1.30am, his entire body stinging from the bites of a tropical squadron of insects. The little buggers were buzzing around him like miniature Messerschmitt, each keen to land and pick up their bloody payload, punctually puncturing him every seven seconds, or so it seemed! Added to the critters fighting trench war fare amid the folds of the ancient mattress, Paul wanted to commit insecticide, but had neglected to pack any!

It was interminable.

There was a mosquito net but it resembled a moth-eaten piece of Victorian lace as it hung,spectre like, from the bamboo ceiling, only serving to disturb Paul and Andrew’s sweaty slumber even further. Andrew had twice been violently caught amongst it’s billowing grey mesh, the first time nearly garrotting himself, and on the second occasion falling heavily to the floor, swaddled like an overgrown infant. Paul had had to untangle his partner swiftly from the errant material, making even more holes in the useless piece of rag.

Andrew struggled proudly to his feet and went out onto the silken beach, the Indian ocean splashing just feet from the balcony of their overpriced bungalow on the underdeveloped island. Paul lay inside under the ragged remainder of the mosquito net, listening to the mercurial generator, which was coughing and spluttering it’s way through the night, drowning the sound of the ocean with one mechanical wave after another. The only other noise heard during the early eastern hours was the incessant coughing and spluttering of the friendly Berliner in the hut next door, who might have been auditioning for the part of Violetta, in ‘La Traviata’ – hourly.

It was a most productive disorder.

In fact, the entire nightly soundscape of stunning Koh Kradan reminded Paul of a touring fun fair. He imagined, during numerous bouts of torrid wakefulness, stepping onto the dove white sands outside, riding the ‘Waltzer’ and grabbing a quick Toffee Apple.

It was not the sound of paradise.

And he most certainly could not sleep.

But sadly there was no fun fair. Just the gigantic, archaic generator and the sanatorium next door.

Koh Kradan was paradisiacal during the day. Other than the day trippers who polluted the near pristine beach with their screaming and floating.

It was pure hell at night.

Paul only hoped he had not contracted Dengue Fever. Especially as the eccentric owner of their prefabricated resort was regularly holding court across his average restaurant, endlessly talking of his recent recovery from the killer disease!

There was no local food. There was no local flavour. There were, in fact, no locals!

The boys had come to the final island on their Thai odyssey, arriving from the striking  Koh Bulon.

Bulon, too, had had it’s own share of drama.

Not least, a jungle which the locals dare not enter for fear of the many ghosts who they swore resided there. Paul and Andrew had just happened to take lodgings on the edge of this forbidden place. They’d heard strange voices in the night, but had not been nearly killed by a malevolent mosquito net as on Kradan.

Koh Bulon was also an island stalked by giant lizards, some three metres long. Paul had got a shock early one morning as he saw a large reptilian tongue, which he was pretty sure did not belong to his husband, appear from behind their jungle hut. The magnificent creature passed majestically by, quite disinterested in the two goggle eyed tourists who watched astounded just feet away. It had been a magnificent sight.

A rare co-existence between fauna and those fawning over it.

There was incredible nurture as well as abundant nature on the charming island. A tiny school where the teachers rented out tourist huts, in which Paul and Andrew had briefly boarded prior to discovering their broody jungle abode, catered to travellers and pupils alike. It was a great lesson in how to use tourism to enable the local community. ‘A’ plus, Paul had thought.

There were also two very friendly squid fishing villages full of equally elastic locals. Locally generated solar power to provide for the resorts.

And a reggae bar!

Paul wondered if it could be bettered.

It was true their next island, Koh Kradan, where they were now residing, was a veritable Eden, but she had a vicious sting in her tail!

She was an Island of expensive resorts. No true inhabitants – only poor food and inflated prices. Together with the BBC’s ‘TENKO’ style hut, in which the boys were now staying, it was a touch disappointing.  Paul considered it to be the last resort. He decided he would never again choose to stay in such a place. Although Kradan was certainly a beauty queen, she was somewhat lacking in the personality department.

 

One would have a much better time, Paul knew, with the slightly sluttish Koh Mook who lay brazenly to the east. He’d always preferred a bunch of scruffy locals puffing away, rather than a division of armoured push-chairs from Potsdam!

Koh Kradan’s beach had recently been voted eighth best in the world by ‘Conde Nast’. Paul could not disagree, but thought it unlikely he and Andrew would return anytime very soon.

They would probably leave it to the honeymooners and the snorkelling toddlers.

And the beautiful fish.

Shame.

Especially as Paul quite suited a snorkel. Or at least that’s what Andrew told him, no doubt hoping for a quieter life!

The next day the boys were to leave for the big polluted smoke of Bangkok, but not before they had to endure another night in their over priced ‘Deer Hunter’ shack. Paul wondered how Robert de Niro would have coped. Then thought better of it.

It wasn’t a night for ‘Russian Roulette’.

That would no doubt occur in Bangkok.

Besides, the tangled mosquito net in the beautifully twisted Koh Kradan would probably get them first!

He lay back and drifted away to the soothing rhythm of The Straits Of Malacca, as they elegantly lapped the silver shore like slithers of mystical mermaids. The sound of the sea was a soporific shanty down in Thailand’s Trang Islands. An intense aquamarine lullaby. Paul let himself drift aimlessly away. But soon enough he felt a sudden tug back towards the shore. A distant rythym drummed steadily in a far off lighthouse. Or rather, a far off generator house. It thudded pleadingly. Gradually bringing him, involuntarily, back to land.  He was once again marooned. Beached in his bamboo cell.  A landlubber dreaming of the sea, and instead being deafened by the bloody generator all night!

Crunch! Thud! Screech! Boom!

The sound of paradise! Lost!

Well, almost.

Paul was more than ready to return to the real Thailand…..

# Me Too Please !!!

Paul would like to say he had never been touched up by a female pensioner before but that wasn’t the case! It was, however, the first time it had been by a lady of Thai persuasion, and a Muslim to boot. It was also a novel experience to have it happen on public transport during the day’s first call to prayer. It was almost as painful as the flat imam who shrieked to his flock quite tunelessly and far to regularly.

He and Andrew had been squeezed onto the truck as if they were being transported to Smithfield meat market.

Twenty people had miraculously squashed onto the tiny Song-thaw and that was before Madame Weinstein had rolled up. Using Paul’s inner thigh as a hand rail she dragged herself up into the vehicle and collapsed heavily onto his lunchbox. By lunchtime itself she had already greedily partaken of his sausage roll and had had a bloody good go at his scotch eggs. Paul was shocked. He’d always thought pork was off limits to those of the Islamic faith. Madam Weinstein was obviously an exception.

When they arrived at an unpronounceable little town rather too near to southern Thailand’s Islamic insurgency, Paul clambered from the vehicle with the leg that stilled worked, happy to escape the Muslim fundamentalism that had been happening onboard. He bade the woman a smile as he left, he didn’t want to appear ungrateful. It was a characteristic he was ashamed of, but he could do nothing about it.

He was a natural tart.

He and Andrew then struggled across an unsafe road bridge with their lumpy rucksacks to get to the bus station on the opposite side of the highway. They were greeted with broad smiles by the locals and, as per usual, much hilarity. There seemed to them to be no hostility here towards unbelievers, not on the surface at least. Everyone from pancake pedlars to paternal pedallers, cycling their kids to school, were utterly charming. And, all seemed incredibly happy.

After an obligatory stop at the local ‘Seven Eleven’  in order to furnish Andrew with enough cigarettes to kill a laboratory Beagle, The Boys doggedly trudged towards the pick up point for their bus south.

The small building was not so much of a bus shelter, more a shelter for the homeless. A few elderly looking vagrants peopled the place with their roguish charm. One of the old boys was most insistent that Paul take his plastic chair. Paul was unable to refuse, even though he was very concerned the tiny piece of furniture might buckle accidentally beneath his occidental weight!

He sat for a while with the gentleman, smoking cigarillos and chewing the fat as Andrew looked on most amused. The main reason for Andrew’s delight was the fact that his husband was now being felt up once again. Only this time by one of the old geezers who was dressed as a 1970s pimp!

 

There was more than a whiff of ‘Huggie Bear’ about the cheeky chappie. Paul was well aware that if he didn’t move swiftly away his lunchbox could be on the menu again. He’d have to join the growing throng of performers using the hashtag ‘Me Too’ soon.

 

He posed for a quick photo, the retouching only occurring during the sitting! He assumed it must be down to the Penhaligons ‘Oud De Nil’ he’d sprayed on far too liberally that morning and absolutely nothing to do with his far too liberal appearance.

He did wonder sometimes if he’d had slut tattooed onto his forehead without his knowledge. He made a mental note to check when he next came before a looking-glass.

After a mercifully short while Andrew and Paul found themselves in a surprisingly comfortable air-conditioned mini-van heading towards the Malaysian border. Paul did a deal with Leh, their driver, to take them on to the actual border post and to wait for them as he and Andrew did a visa run in and out of the country.

After driving through mountainous jungle they reached the imaginary line between the two nations. Machine gun wielding soldiers smiled at them as they alighted, their fingers resting disarmingly on the triggers. Paul and Andrew smiled back wanting to stay on the good side of the seriously armed soldiers. There was obviously sometimes a touch of  trouble at this particular post thought Paul, hence the armies posting. He wasn’t sure whether the heavy armoury mad him feel safer, but he knew he would be most pleased when the whole diplomatic affair was over.

It actually went very smoothly.

The Boys stamped out of Thailand, walked across the strange no-mans land that always fascinated Paul when they crossed an international land border, and stamped into Malaysia. Whilst in that marvellous country Andrew had a fag and Paul visited a public lavatory, then they then they hit the duty free shop.

There was a splendid array of cheap branded alcohol which surprised them both, especially as they had found it difficult to even get a beer on their visit to the country a few years back. They then stamped out of Malaysia and back into Thailand and were given a further thirty days on their visa.

Completely gratis.

There were a few times when being a UK citizen had it’s benefits. This being one of them.

They then found Leh and motored on to the small town of Satun, which nestled steamily in a jungle valley deep in south-west Thailand. They had not expected the place to be so charming. Yet it was like travelling back in time. As the boys headed into one of the rural suburbs they were transported to a riverine oasis of laughing children and their equally contented parents.

Hens clucked as mother hens mucked out. Dads  mended fishing nets. One man was washing his cock! One of the feathered varieties of course. All going about their daily life in a timeless and effortless fashion. It was as if time did not exist in the pretty dwelling. Other than the odd mobile phone, which now seemed to Paul, disappointingly ubiquitous across the entire globe.

As the heat of the day peaked at an astronomical high and the fecund grey clouds threatened to discharge their abundant moisture, the boys headed back to their guesthouse to avoid a good soaking. They partook of a brilliant yellow curry,  which was as good as the one made by their great friend Stella. She was always the benchmark when it came to Thai cuisine, having once managed an extraordinarily successful Thai restaurant in London. Her ears must have burned as hotly as the dishes they sampled on their travels,as each time they would gauge a curry’s  appeal.

‘Not as good as Stella’s’ one of them would often remark. On this, their latest excursion, their friend’s ears had probably not burned quite as often, as the food had come up trumps. Paul had even learnt to replicate a couple of the stranger dishes in order to cook them for her on the their return. If he could get hold of the inordinate variety of aubergine that existed in Thailand. He thought he may have to sneak some into his rucksack on the flight home. Surely BA couldn’t be sniffy about a touch of excess eggplant! Then again…

But it was not quite home time yet. Andrew and Paul were to make their merry way from the roasting town of Satun the next morning, and head out to another lesser known Island the latter had discovered.

The next morning the call to prayer blasted zealously into their furnace of a room at a rude 5am. There was really no need to set an alarm in Thailand’s Deep South. The mosque very thoughtfully did it for you.

Thankfully, thought Paul, this fella was in tune. He really didn’t mind the exotic alarm call at all, but wholly disapproved if the holy man was religiously missing his top ‘B’ flats!

After an intensely bitter coffee (Apparently! A local brew!) they waited for the bus which was to take them to meet their Song-thaw, which would then head off for the small port of Pakbara. Paul took his cologne from his bag and went to spray himself. He stopped suddenly, changing his mind. Perhaps he’d give the Penhaligon’s a miss today. After all, one never knew who their travelling companions would be, and Madame Weinstein and her equally fruity brother, Harvey, who he’d met at the bus-top the previous day, were fresh in his mind. Too fresh!

When the bus arrived the boys climbed awkwardly between the pots and packages looking for a free seat. Paul spotted two towards the rear, he also locked eyes with a hulking German Adonis with eyes like cerulean pools. He flashed a blindingly flirtatious smile towards Paul, who did a little giggle worthy of that of an embarrassed schoolgirl. ‘Shit’ he thought mischievously, ‘Why didn’t I apply my ‘Oud De Nil ?’ But his ego had been well and truly touched up by the naughty moment.

He collapsed into his seat next to his soporific partner and then caught sight of a stunning young fraulein who was boarding the bus just behind him. She smiled longingly at the godlike creature to his rear. He realised immediately it had surely been her who had elicited the smile from the handsome Teutonic passenger, and not him. He knew he’d smelt a rat. He was losing his touch!

‘Now’, he thought, ‘where’s that bloody perfume?’

He turned and gave a cheeky smile to the young lovers behind him.

She was certainly a very lucky girl.

‘# Me Too Please’ he thought, sinfully, to himself.

The imam would most certainly not have approved!

Far From The Madding Flock!

The sultry Thai breeze lifted Paul’s curls as he gazed out at the tropical islands to the west bringing with it a cool clarity. He had been reading Virginia Woolf on the beach and it had put him in pensive mood, some would say a pretentious bent, but Paul had stopped listening to life’s small minded critics, whose mission,it seemed, was to chip away steadily at the confidence of others in order to prove their own small self-worth. They seemed meaningless to him now as the burgeoning sun began her swift descent towards her crimson pillow. If he wanted to be pretentious that was up to him.

He gazed at the four erratically shaped islands which lay on the dreamy horizon and imagined the comings and goings on their peculiar shores. He knew three of them to be ‘Bird’s Nest Concession’ Islands. A phrase he had not come across until a few days earlier when he and Andrew had met a charming Swedish couple on their arrival at their ever so laid back resort. In fact, for days, it had just been the four of them sharing the windswept beige sands which looked across to the national marine park of Koh Phetra and her rocky companions, so he had learnt a fair deal from them concerning what went on amid the mysterious limestone outcrops.

Although the islands were part of a conservation project and therefore had no population, there were a few temporary residents. Some fisherman who made use of a paradisiacal bay, which far outstripped the beauty of Leo Dicaprio’s beach in the well-known film, along with a band of intrepid climbers, whose job it was to scale the shard like cliffs in order to reach the sky caves of the island’s only permanent inhabitants, the multitude of Sea Swiftlets. These oceanic mountaineers were not keen ornithologists hoping to catch sight of a rare bird, but rather keen businessmen with a sharp eye for the nests the darting creatures created.

‘Bird’s Nest Soup’ was apparently a thriving business in southern Thailand. The homes of the tiny birds were collected and sold to make the famous oriental delicacy.

The market in China alone brought in over a hundred million pounds a year, Paul understood why the lithe sun-burnished athletes risked life and limb hauling themselves up ropes hundreds of feet in the air.

The rewards were sky- high.

The nests themselves were formed from the dried saliva of the Swiftlets and he couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for the poor avian creatures who must have flown back to their roosts too often to discover themselves homeless. Made destitute, just so some fat businessman in Shanghai could salivate over a dish of hideous soup.

Paul, who had swallowed many an odd concoction in his time, could not think of anything worse than eating a bowl of bird spit. But it seemed he was in a minority in the east. The fashion was so profitable that he and Andrew had been warned not to visit the Islands for fear of being shot at. Heavily armed guards were another of the islands itinerant residents.

Paul looked again towards the western seascape, the islands now silkily silhouetted against a pink backdrop. Their beauty seemed to him less romantic now, with the plight of a million vagrant birds hatching in his mind. He had initially wanted to row the five kilometres to the nearer Koh Laoliang, but he knew that after the drama of he and Andrew’s previous nautical escapade, he would have trouble convincing his husband to take up oars. The thought of being picked off with a long-range rifle, like a clay pigeon, also held limited appeal. Therefore the enigmatic islands would for now, have to remain just that.

An enigma.

Besides the island on which the boys were now residing was quite gorgeous enough. Home to a small Muslim population, who made their way growing rice, rubber and luscious watermelon. The place was incredibly friendly. The few tourists who endeavoured to find the beautiful isle were treated more as close friends than ‘farang’.

Paul had discovered the island on an esoteric website specialising in the lesser known nesting sites Thailand still had to offer. He and Andrew had made their way south from the stunning Koh Mook on a local form of transport known as a ‘songthaw’. This was basically an open truck with two rows, (the literal meaning of songthaw), made up of a duo of uncomfortable wooden benches. They reminded Paul of the forms on which pupils had been made to sit at junior school. Of course with senior buttocks, they were far less accommodating.

As they made their way through rural lanes and stopped briefly at remote farms to collect passengers on route, the vehicle became somewhat crowded. A young girl on wooden crutches; an old girl with wooden teeth; an entire family with what appeared to be their entire worldly belongings filled the truck making Paul and Andrew decry their long greedy western limbs. They shamelessly fought for space alongside greedy toddlers and smiling pensioners, eventually succumbing to the cramped conditions and moulding into one like hot sardines in a can. They were practically family by the time they arrived at the tiny pier to take the small boat across the Andaman Sea. The passengers had shared everything. Their lunch, their conversation, their scent. The sheer humanity onboard the wagon had been tangible and it touched Paul. He thought how different it had been to the starchy underground journeys one takes in London. The passengers had become one, not like the separate sullenness exhibited on the miserable tube. It is true it had been rather cramped, but the human spirit had not. That had soared way overground.

On their first full day on the island Paul and Andrew hired decrepit bicycles and pushed on towards a village near it’s centre. They made a sweaty pit stop and hoped for a beer at a bijoux local establishment. The old lady, who had a look of a toothless Mother Theresa welcomed them warmly. She brought her snivelling grandson from the back room to meet them – he was not at all amused. The boys had to settle for water, it being a Muslim enclave, but they were sated. The liquid bringing life back to their liquidated limbs. The amiable old lady even made them some banana fritters, on the house, she wouldn’t hear of taking payment. It was more than refreshing. Both Andrew and Paul thought it might have been the friendliest part of Thailand they had yet visited. And they’d certainly been around.

Later on in the sweltering day they looked towards the island of Koh Libong as they climbed an unmarked hill on route back to their lodgings. This was where the mystical Dugong made their home. Strange aquatic creatures related to the sea cow. They nested in the rare sea grass that covered the ocean floor nearby. Paul thought he spotted a large shape gliding slowly beneath the sapphire surface, but Andrew informed him it was nothing, just a shadow. He was quite obviously delirious from the stifling heat and the outmoded set of wheels with which he was struggling. As they hit the crest of the hill relief flooded them both and they careered  downwards towards the rubber plantation below. It was not the most opportune of moments for Paul to discover that the stopping mechanism on his bike was non-existent.

‘Ding, ding!!! ‘ He screamed at Andrew as he flew past his lover as swift as the swiftest Swiflet, taking the bend faster than Lewis Hamilton and just managing to avoid a stray water buffalo meandering gently through the trees at the bottom. Both the buffalo and Andrew made their displeasure known. In no uncertain terms! Neither seemed to approve of the drama which had just unfolded as Paul had almost taken flight.

‘Why is everything a bloody performance with you?’ Andrew chastised.

‘It’s not my fault if I’ve got no buggery brakes!’ Paul shouted back.

He considered it most unfair for Andrew to fly off the handle when he had almost gone headfirst over his.

They cycled on through the shimmering green and eventually came to another idyllic spot. A charming  resort of wooden cabins directly on a perfectly deserted stretch of beach. They were joined only by two ice cold beers. It was pure perfection.

As Paul gazed across the Emerald Andaman Sea towards the other islands in the Trang Archipelago, and the geography beyond which imperceptibly became Malaysia, he felt very lucky that he and Andrew had decided to make their temporary nest where they had. It was an unspoilt heavenly place.

Even if the bikes were crap.

Arriving back at their own nesting ground he sat on the tawny beach alone. His thighs smarting from the unintended work out which they had been given. Andrew was already unconscious inside their roost.

A warm wind unlocked Paul’s locks and he once again picked up ‘Mrs Dalloway’ to continue his literary discovery. He certainly wasn’t afraid of Virginia Woolf. But he was a little fearful of revealing the dazzling island he and Andrew had discovered. Thinking, egotistically, that doing so in his leanly read musings would lead to it’s discovery. The package cuckoos would arrive and fling them from their secret hideaway.

Would he let his small flock of readers in on the destination? And Pigs might fly, he thought. He had, after all, already given them more than enough clues!

He lay back, solitary on the deserted beach, just him, a lone eagle swooping the sky, and the high flying literature of Woolf to keep him company. Pretentious he knew. But who cared? There was no one to judge him. Not until the other snow birds came flocking.

And that could take a while.

The Sunset Years…

After having majestically marooned themselves on one of the paradisiacal Trang Islands, Paul and Andrew were not yet in the mood to move on. The island vibe on Koh Mook was so tranquil it bordered on the soporific. Paul knew for certain it was a truly hypnotic place and that if the boys didn’t leave soon they could fall under it’s tropical spell forever. Therefore, an escape was planned. But not before the two castaways gave themselves over to the island’s charm for a few days longer.

They were staying in a simple hut directly on the stunning beach of ‘Had Farang’. Paul thought the ‘Resort’ rather ordinary but the old adage ‘location, location, location’ could not have been more apt. He and Andrew’s temporary home was built on bamboo stilts set directly over the powder white sand. The aquamarine ocean rippled just a few nautical feet away. It was pure class. And should have cost a fortune. But didn’t – at least, not yet!

The service at the Resort, however, was not quite of the same quality. The motley crew of staff members were oddly vacant. Paul had noticed immediately that more than a few of them were at least one noodle short of a pad Thai!

As the sun began to step on the gas nearing it’s zenith, midday became sweltering. Paul stood on the beach at noon attempting a kind of sweaty semaphore. He was trying to get one of the dodgier members of staff to clean the boys’ room. They had stayed for a week now and it hadn’t yet seen the tip of a toilet brush! The towels were practically walking and the bedsheets  had a whiff of a busy Berlin brothel. His sweaty mime, however, was not going at all well. Despite Paul’s best efforts at miming sweeping, polishing and scrubbing, it seemed none of these translated into the Thai for ‘clean room please’. The puzzled lad smiled back at him with a toothless grin and laughed.

‘Room clean, clean room’, Paul must have repeated at least twelve times. On each occasion eliciting the excited response ‘loom kee’ from the befuddled worker. After relentless repetition Paul knew it was time to wrap up the bizarre little rap. It was, after all, quite pointless. Paul wondered for an embarrassed moment if he’d just picked on a random Thai tourist who had no connection with the ‘resort’. In fact the only way one could decipher who was actually employed by the place was by spotting the uniform the staff were required to wear. An electric blue and vivid pink creation which was eminently more colourful than those who wore it.

Paul, quite out of character, turned away from the Hawaiian shirt. He was exhausted. A few moments later the helpful lad arrived with five rolls of toilet paper for Paul. It was evident he did work at the huts. Paul accepted the more than generous amount bog rolls with a confused smile.  He wondered if the guy in the shirt knew something he didn’t.

He hoped not.

The staff at ‘Long Beach’ generally shuffled slovenly from kitchen to table and then back again much like colourful zombies. And if one did occasionally break into a brief smile, the parlous state of Trang’s dental service was more than apparent. Paul noticed that their was a touch of ‘The Walking Dead’ stalking stealthily across the entire island. He suspected that the gene pool was rather shallow in places. But hey, they were young and amiable enough, so even if he did have to wait an hour for a warm soda water, he couldn’t get angry.

He made his way back to the cooling shade of he and Andrew’s waterside hut. He leaned languorously  against the wooden balustrade of the scruffy verandah luxuriating under the jungle leaves. Long brown bodies, lithe figures languid with youth, lounged lascivious beneath him. Paul watched the tanned twenty somethings for a while as they laughed and gesticulated with a freedom only the young possess. Every now and then one of the youthful group would jump to their feet with ease and stretch effortlessly for a cigarette paper. Or another would touch their toes gracefully on the way to grabbing a beer. Their loucheness caused Paul to stiffen. Not in the romantic sense! More in the spinal department! He was well aware that his body was a touch more mature nowadays, yet there was nothing like seeing a bunch of fit, over-exuberant gits doing a bit of yoga to rub it in. He looked away – a touch of ‘downward dog’ filling his soul.

The glorious sunset which followed was expected and so therefore somehow less impressive. Paul knew that it must have been down to him. The Trang Islands had not suddenly become less beautiful. He marvelled cynically at the human ability to habituate to a truly beautiful environment and therefore cease to be aware of it’s wonder. The setting hadn’t lost it’s magnificence, rather Paul had altered his setting. His course had been set to slightly miserable. He made a mental point not to do it again. He would make sure he enjoyed every part of the sunset of their stay on Koh Mook.

He looked towards one of the workers sporting one of the loud shirts and with equal volume attempted the room cleaning charade. Once again he was met with the same wide-eyed, slack-jawed response.

‘Loom kee’ boomed the boy in the brash shirt, ‘loom kee’.

Paul knew he was not going to get the room cleaned.

But as he was staying in paradise he really didn’t care.

He headed onto the beach to join the troupe of acrobatic young friends stretching lazily into the pink sunset. A little ‘salute to the sun’ perhaps.

Well, he thought,  if you can’t beat them …….

The Sunset Years…

After having majestically marooned themselves on one of the paradisiacal Trang Islands, Paul and Andrew were not yet in the mood to move on. The island vibe on Koh Mook was so tranquil it bordered on the soporific. Paul knew for certain it was a truly hypnotic place and that if the boys didn’t leave soon they could fall under it’s tropical spell forever. Therefore, an escape was planned. But not before the two castaways gave themselves over to the island’s charm for a few days longer.

They were staying in a simple hut directly on the stunning beach of ‘Had Farang’. Paul thought the ‘Resort’ rather ordinary but the old adage ‘location, location, location’ could not have been more apt. He and Andrew’s temporary home was built on bamboo stilts set directly over the powder white sand. The aquamarine ocean rippled just a few nautical feet away. It was pure class. And should have cost a fortune. But didn’t – at least, not yet!

The service at the Resort, however, was not quite of the same quality. The motley crew of staff members were oddly vacant. Paul had noticed immediately that more than a few of them were at least one noodle short of a pad Thai!

As the sun began to step on the gas nearing it’s zenith, midday became sweltering. Paul stood on the beach at noon attempting a kind of sweaty semaphore. He was trying to get one of the dodgier members of staff to clean the boys’ room. They had stayed for a week now and it hadn’t yet seen the tip of a toilet brush! The towels were practically walking and the bedsheets  had a whiff of a busy Berlin brothel. His sweaty mime, however, was not going at all well. Despite Paul’s best efforts at miming sweeping, polishing and scrubbing, it seemed none of these translated into the Thai for ‘clean room please’. The puzzled lad smiled back at him with a toothless grin and laughed.

‘Room clean, clean room’, Paul must have repeated at least twelve times. On each occasion eliciting the excited response ‘loom kee’ from the befuddled worker. After relentless repetition Paul knew it was time to wrap up the bizarre little rap. It was, after all, quite pointless. Paul wondered for an embarrassed moment if he’d just picked on a random Thai tourist who had no connection with the ‘resort’. In fact the only way one could decipher who was actually employed by the place was by spotting the uniform the staff were required to wear. An electric blue and vivid pink creation which was eminently more colourful than those who wore it.

Paul quite out of character, turned away from the Hawaiian shirt. He was quite exhausted. A few moments later the helpful lad arrived with five rolls of toilet roll for Paul. It was evident he did work at the huts. Paul excepted the generous amount of bog rolls with a confused smile.  He wondered if the guy knew something he didn’t. He hoped not.

The staff at ‘Long Beach’ generally shuffled slovenly from kitchen to table and then back again much like colourful zombies. And if one did occasionally break into a brief smile, the parlous state of Trang’s dental service was more than apparent. Paul noticed that their was a touch of ‘The Walking Dead’ stalking stealthily across the entire island. He suspected that the gene pool was rather shallow in places. But hey, they were young and amiable enough, so even if he did have to wait an hour for a warm soda water, he couldn’t get angry.

He made his way back to the cooling shade of he and Andrew’s waterside hut. He leaned languorously  against the wooden balustrade of the scruffy verandah luxuriating under the jungle leaves. Long brown bodies, lithe figures languid with youth, lounged lascivious beneath him. Paul watched the tanned twenty somethings for a while as they laughed and gesticulated with a freedom only the young possess. Every now and then one of the youthful group would jump to their feet with ease and stretch effortlessly for a cigarette paper. Or another would touch their toes gracefully on the way to grabbing a beer. Their loucheness caused Paul to stiffen. Not in the romantic sense! More in the spinal department! He was well aware that his body was a touch more mature nowadays, yet there was nothing like seeing a bunch of fit, over-exuberant gits doing a bit of yoga to rub it in. He looked away – a touch of ‘downward dog’ filling his soul.

The glorious sunset which followed was expected and so therefore somehow less impressive. Paul knew that it must have been down to him. The Trang Islands had not suddenly become less beautiful. He marvelled cynically at the human ability to habituate to a truly beautiful environment and therefore cease to be aware of it’s wonder. The setting hadn’t lost it’s magnificence, rather Paul had altered his setting. His course had been set to slightly miserable. He made a mental point not to do it again. He would make sure he enjoyed every part of the sunset of their stay on Koh Mook.

He looked towards one of the workers sporting one of the loud shirts and with equal volume attempted the room cleaning charade. Once again he was met with the same wide-eyed, slack-jawed response.

‘Loom kee’ boomed the boy in the brash shirt, ‘loom kee’.

Paul knew he was not going to get the room cleaned.

But as he was staying in paradise he really didn’t care.

He headed onto the beach to join the troupe of acrobatic young friends stretching lazily into the pink sunset. A little ‘salute to the sun’ perhaps.

Well, he thought,  if you can’t beat them …….

The Solo Adventures Of A Forty-Something Teenage Detective!

Dong Hoi

imageI set out from my ‘bijoux’ guest house in the small, provincial, untouristic town of Dong Hoi and headed for the incongruously psychedelic bridge which crossed the Nhat Li river.

There was not a lot to see here, the town once being the main staging post for the Viet Cong during the war, it’s environs had been completely razed to the ground. image

The main sights being the bombed out church, preserved as yet another reminder of yet another U.S. war crime, and the bridge, an excellent example of a Vietnamese architect’s draw crime!

The only other vaguely historical point of interest was the remains of an ancient gate which had once been the entrance to an impressive citadel.

Sadly this was unmaintained and littered with rubbish, including a few used syringes.

Apparently this unassuming little conurbation lies on the main heroin smuggling route. The locals say the brown stuff arrives on boats and is then transported overland into Laos, just twenty miles west of here. This would explain the small underbelly of the populace which I have noticed on my meanderings – wandering aimlessly, dazed and confused. I mean them, as well as me. I had assumed there was a small underfunded, psychiatric unit nearby, I now knew better.

imageI crossed the funky bridge, grey and wan in it’s daytime attire and headed for the sandy spit which I’d espied from attic room days earlier. From there it had appeared close by – just a cough and a spit on a bicylce. However, as it transpired, the journey was more akin to. A case of full blown pnuemonia!

As the essential early morning Vietnamese coffee kicked in violently, I found myself pedalling furiously through the narrow lanes. The bike had ten gears apparently, although the other nine I had tried were refusing to co-operate. The bike and I were most definitely not in tandem.

After what seemed like a very short time, I found myself alongside an extremely quiet stretch of beach. Sand dunes rolled out for as far as the eye could see, and all I could hear was the noisy roar of the implacid South China Sea, crashing ferociously sounding like an oriental timpani section as it met the beach.

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The sea itself was unswimmable, the current quite unmanageable, even for a cross channel veteran such as David Walliams. I had been warned to venture in by Vanh, my lovely guest house owner. Had she not been so forthcoming with her coastguardly advice, I would still not have been remotely tempted. Though impressive, majestic even, this remote stretch of ocean is terribly uninviting. The South China Sea can be incredibly agressive at times. Perhaps this great part of the Western Pacific is rebelling in response to China’s recent agression in this maritime region. That great nation seems intent on claiming most of these waters for herself, even those far from it’s shores, much to the chagrin of Vietnam and the other numerous countries who share the it’s coastline. It seems the sea is not the only part of this region with a disturbingl and dangerous undercurrent!

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Greedy,greedy!

I was interrupted from my high-brow geo-political reverie by four young lads, who were visiting the beautiful, if deadly beach on a day trip. Do, Hi, Cok and Wi, who on mass sounded suspiciously like Donald Duck’s nephews, were having a quacking time. (Apologies!) despite the weather. And of course they went quackers when the chance of having a snap with an odd looking westerner materialised. They wanted nothing more than to beach bond with the bleach blonde who had washed up on their tumultuous shoreline. I was more than happy to oblige, they were such sweet and gentle guys, as they always seem to be in this country.

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If the youth are anything to go by, surely only good things can happen here in the future.
I left the beach and cycled onto a road that was under construction. I went for some time at considerable speed, now having re-discovered the art of changing gears on a bicycle. The wind in my hair, the sun attempting to light up my face, it felt great. I was out alone, rucksacked and rebellious, ignoring the boringly dry guidebook and heading for adventure. I’d found at least half of my inner TinTin for which I’d been searching. Now for the remainder.

Then, from what seemed like no-where, two angry hounds from hell, sprung up from the side of the deserted highway and gave chase. I stood on the pedals in an attempt to accelerate away, but neither the bike nor my quadriceps responded quite as quickly as they had once done. image

One of the vicious looking curs, a mean yellow thing, who looked as if he’d swallowed a box of washing powder, made bold!

It went directly for my right ankle. For a moment he caught the bottom of my jeans between his sizeable jaws and I wobbled unsteadily. Physically and mentally! I kicked out hard, there was a yelp, I did not look back as the bike suddenly kicked itself into gear and I was free. My heart was pounding, my thoughts racing faster than the guy in the yellow jersey on the Tour De France. ‘What ifs’ abounded. Not least, what if I’d been bitten?!

Especially as Andrew and I had declined the offer of a series of Rabies shots prior to setting off for eastern climes. The jabs were so expensive and the risks seemingly so distant then, as we sat comfortably ensconced in the tropical nurse’s spotless, Gibraltar surgery.

She had kindly warned us of a recent outbreak in Saigon, but we’d not been swayed. I was now busy wondering if we’d been barking mad to make such a decision when I heard loud voices coming from behind. My initial thought was that I’d raised the heckles of the mean, yellow dog’s owner and he was chastising me, even giving chase! I didn’t wait to find out, but moved up through the gears as fast as I could and turned down a sandy path just beyond some camouflaging scrub, hoping I would lose any possible pursuants.

I could hear more angry shouts, now growing more urgent, I turned to look over my shoulder. To my surprise, instead of an oriental peasant with a shovel and a pissed off mutt, there stood behind me two very serious looking men in army green uniform, with two very serious looking guns by their sides. There was not a dog or serf in sight! I slammed on the brakes, and shot them an apologetic and confused touristy look. I knew I’d obviously made a transgression somehow, perhaps they’d read the blog! I was not in such adventurous mood as to try and outride two Viet army personel who appeared highly concerned and highly armed! I did want to trigger a Viet wrong!

I turned the bike around and made my way towards them.
“No! No!” They were shrieking. Holding up their arms, and thankfully not their arms, in a crossed position in the air.
“No! No! Not allow!”
As I reached the two guys there urgency did not diminish. The taller of the two was making strange noises and waving his arms in an expansive gesture. For a moment he looked as though he was doing the dance that accompanied the Y.M.C.A., I could have giggled with nerves, I was scared enough, instead I maintained composure. He continued on with his Village People  routine and with the noises, which I could now discern as ‘Boom’, ‘Bersh’, ‘Boc Boc’, etc.
It was then I twigged!

There was obviously unexploded ordinance here. I nad been warned by Vanh, and am usually very sensible under such circumstances, but ‘The Hounds Of The Baskervilles’ had put me off my pace and I’d obviously gone further off road than I had realised.
“I’m sorry, so sorry” I apologised, smiling manically. Teeth usually make a difference here.
“Thankyou, thankyou. Cam Un. Cam un.” A little bit of the local lingo goes a long way too.

At once their stern attitude changed. They were not angry with me, only concerned for my physical welfare. They smiled broadly and laughed hard. The three of us shared a moment of nervous hilarity as we shook hands and giggled energetically at the thought of me being blown to smithereens!

They were so nice, they even directed me on an alternative route, avoiding the brutish canines and the U.X.B. I was most grateful.

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After another ten minutes of riding, my crotch and I needed a break. I stopped on the deserted road and took some water.

I marvelled at the construction of all the infrastructure surrounding me, and wondered at the lack of people.

Just who exactly were they putting all this structure ‘infra’!

There was nobody here!

Other than a guy on a black moped who nad been putting along very slowly ahead of me for the last ten minutes or so. Every now and then he would come to a halt, and glance, rather too conspicuously, in his rear view mirrors, seemingly to check my position.

I passed him a couple of times as he remained inexplicably stationary at the side of the deserted highway, giving him a wide berth and attempting to look confident and butch, as my late father had always dispondantly encouraged. Each time, the shrouded rider would start up again and accelerate further down the road, stopping a couple of hundred yards in front of me, looking once more to his mirrors. After about quarter of an hour of this strange duel, I began to grow a little apprehensive. What with the the mad dogs, the leftover bombs and now this mysterious biker, everything was becoming a little too ‘Herge’ – even for my liking!

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My ‘Tin’ was definitely rattled.

I was alone, at least five miles from anywhere, and it felt like five hundred. There was nothing for it but too stand my ground. Dig deep and mine the other half of my Tintin spirit – discover my true metal.

I took out the mobile phone I’d had the foresight to pocket prior to venturing out and held it very obviously in my hand. I then pretended to make a phone call, shouting ridiculously loudly to ensure the masked motorcyclist could hear me. I then clicked the phone into camera mode, stood tall on the bike, and pedalled directly towards the suspected highwayman. I stopped abruptly, about twenty feet from him, lifted the camera high into the air, and took a photograph. I then put the phone back into my pocket and continued to ride past the guy, smiling confidently as I did so. As he was masked I could not tell if he reciprocated, although I had my doubts!

I cycled on, I did not look back for fear of appearing insecure. I kept my pace slow and measured – for once dad would have been proud.

After a couple of minutes, I stopped. Climbed out of the saddle and kicked on my bike-stand in the manner I imagine John Wayne would have done in a similar showdown. As I did so I clumsily bashed my ankle bone into the bike frame in a style more akin to ‘Blazing Saddles’! I tried hard not to react, but it bloody hurt. I then opened my rucksack, took out my water, and nonchalantly took a swig, missing my mouth entirely, and throwing most of the H2O into my left eye! I glanced over, as surreptitiously as I could with the one that could still focus, in the biker’s direction. He had begun to move towards me again – I held my nerve. I could hear the soundtrack of ‘The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly’ reverberating around my head at great speed.

“Duddle Uddle Urr – Durr Durr Durr”!!!

And then, suddenly, as quickly as he had appeared, the ghost-rider made a broad u-turn and crossed to the opposite lane. He then rode directly away from me. Calm and deliberate, without so much as a nod of his helmet.

We had, at last, parted company.

Not before time!

I waited a good twenty minutes, or so it seemed. The battery in the phone was exhausted, I had know way of knowing for certain. The photograph I had snapped of my shady biker friend in order to expose him, had been it’s final exposure!

I made my way calmly back towards the town, feeling partially relieved, and, egocentrically, a little proud of myself that I had managed to deter a possible highway robbery, or perhaps something worse! Either that, or my paranoid western sensibilities had got the better of me, and I had scared a poor Vietnamese joyrider witless, with an intriguing game of cat and mouse!

My gut feeling, however, points towards the former.

This country feels, and is, incredibly safe, doubtless due in some part to the fear instilled into the local population by the Vietnamese state should they dare to commit a crime. The gaols here are notoriously unreformed – Elizabeth Fry would have had a field day!

But narcotics can take away one’s fear of reprisal, and with the underlying drugs issue here unresolved, I wonder if I’d just been unlucky enough to encounter one of the few desperate local junkies out on the empty highway.

As I neared the river, a motorcycle pulled up directly alongside me.
‘Blistering Barnacles!’ I nearly jumped out of my skin!
But immediately I was greeted with a benign, smiling hello. It was Linh, one of the student waitresses employed at the small cafe opposite my hotel. She just wanted to ride beside me and chat, practicing her English as we went. I was more than happy to have her with me as we rode back towards civilisation.

“What is you name?” She asked, beaming. Innocent and guileless and with innate charm.
“Tintin” I wanted to answer. But I knew this was unfair. Cruel even, and the joke would have been lost.
“Paul”, I said, returning the smile. “It’s Paul”.
But I knew, that deep down inside, it was Tintin again. If even just for a few exciting moments.

And as the sun broke through the haze for the first time in days, so did my teenage self. I was delighted to know that the boy detective deep inside of me, almost suffocated by the trials and tribulations of adulthood, was most definitely alive and kicking, and it felt utterly brilliant.

Although, I think that may be enough solo adventure for one comic’s trip !

Tomorrow I head for Hanoi to meet up with my old partner in ryhme.
The double act is to be reunited.

But I shall always be grateful for this week I spent alone. Thankful for the hounds, the unexploded ordinance and the angel from hell, which provided me with just enough danger to resuscitate my inner child.

Now he’s been given the kiss of life, I may invite him out to play more often.

“Come on Snowy. Walkies”!

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