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balance (2): reality

Friday, January 14, 2005


the trip to burma was a much-needed adventure. it started with a ride on the night ferry from ko phangan to surat thani, which took about 8 hours. the boat rocked slowly back and forth and was dimly lit by green bulbs. the floors were covered in mats upon which to sleep, with the feet higher in the middle of the boat than the head near the wall. cockroaches and rats scurried about. an older british chap who bragged about his miraculous and doubtful success as a dj on haad rin smoked me up before sleep. the breeze blew in from open portholes overhead. i hung out the window to stare at millions of stars. geeda fell asleep with his leg over mine, and newspapers over his head.

typical geeda

at 5am the lights shot on, glaring through the peace. we picked ourselves up bleary-eyed and trudged to a taxi to the center of surat thani, where we waited in dark early morning for a mini bus to drive us to ranong. it came and we hopped in. i sat next to geeda (who has a lot of touchy-feely sexual energy) and a flambouyantly dressed man from finland who flashed me a glance at a two liter bottle filled with sangsom rum in his bag. it was hot in the mini bus and i dozed over the pages of the bangkok post as my neighbors slept and got drunk, respectively. the countryside was plush and green, as most of thailand is.

in ranong, many hours later we had first to stop at an immigration office, where i paid 1200 baht for an overstay (oops). the official ceremoniously stamped a warning in my passport, and joked that he wouldn’t give it back (not funny). then we were hauled off to the border.

it was a dirty outpost next to a river, with mud and debris-covered steps leading down to the longtail boats, and a mixed crowd of thai and burmese. geeda and i tiptoed down and found a spot under the flimsy plastic roof of our boat. it was extraordinarily hot on the brown water, and the boats were dingy. a young hippie couple from spain sat in front of us with their little boy, who was almost two. i don’t want kids myself but i love other peoples’... the boy was fascinated by me and geeda and talked to us the entire trip, trying on our sunglasses, attempting to learn our names, and lisping somberly to himself with huge brown eyes covered in curly lashes. he nicknamed ‘buddha’ just ‘da’. the boat passed a small island, built up with bunkers and sandbags and used as a military lookout- the men standing bored in camouflage held rifles as long as their legs. there was another small island with a buddhist temple, surrounded by bald monks in dark maroon robes a la tibet. each immigration point was a small white house perched perilously up on the steep riverbank, with a high staircase leading up to the office. we gathered our passports and american dollars at each point and handed them to a burmese boy, who scrambled up to get the requisite stamps. we waited in the hot sun, as longtail boats rammed into us filled with beautifully dressed burmese women in flowered dresses and shiny hair. they and their men, who wore sarongs wrapped about the waist and long sleeve shirts, had yellow paste painted on their cheeks. i am told it is a sign of class and beauty. they gawked at us as we gawked at them.

we finally reached burma proper, where we climbed past a big rusty boat full of policemen playing cards, and up a rusty bridge to cross over. two grubby young boys started following us immediately. they were mostly wanting to practice their english but threw in the occasional bargain for a carton of cigarettes and touts for cheap viagra. geeda swapped football trivia with them and they gave us crumpled green notes of myanmar kyats to keep as souvenirs. victoria’s point is a small town, with just one main intersection lined with two-story shops. colorfully painted trucks serve as taxis. children wander dirty and adults carrying various things looked sweaty and exhausted. i got a visa stamp good for another month for a mere $5.

the trip back was the previous in reverse. geeda and i screeched occasionally as the driver drove like a maniac and narrowly escaped a bloody accident several times. we also traded life stories, which end up being very similar. by the time we arrived back in surat thani we were exhausted and starving, and better friends than we had been before. we learned we had to wait another hour at the travel agency for the 3 hour ferry back to ko phangan, so we used the time wisely and got drunk with marco, the finnish guy, and a nearby smiley drunk thai man in a food shop. i fed a stray kitten and wobbled out to the bus when it finally arrived, full of thai people. we stood in the hot corridor and tried to stay conscious until we reached the ferry.

the ferry is a big open ship of sorts with a small shop and lots of hard plastic seats. we found that cans of leo beer were only 25 baht, and sat down to put away a sixpack or so each, getting steadily more drunk the closer we got to ko phangan. there was a dark storm surrounding us, blowing the ship from side to side and making me want to tear out my hair. several groups of thai men were drinking also, and we sampled each others’ liquor with shouts of “chok dee”. geeda started talking very explicitly and openly about sex, making marco and i giggle and blush. marco gawked awkwardly in his flourescent pink and green shirt, matching glasses, and a mohawk. his english was horrible, but he made us laugh simply with his mannerisms. by the time the boat arrived we were giving each other big bear hugs and proclaiming friendship for life.

and finally, whit picked us up like a dutiful wife at the pier, in a borrowed songthaew (or pickup truck taxi). i jumped in the back with an english couple and several boxes of singha, and we headed towards thong nai pan. i convinced the couple (who had just returned from travelling all over australia, he was a landscaper and she trained horses), to come to the bar, and we arrived scraggly and overexcited at about 10p. i collapsed in the corner with a bottle of water and listened to the party until i fell asleep.


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